By Joan KiblerFebruary 28, 2018
Steve Zeltner has spent his career in jobs where he could make a positive impact, although he's the first to say that he doesn't want to be that person "out front."
Zeltner, chief of Programs Integration Division at the Transatlantic Division (TAD), retires Feb. 28 and leaves a wealth of institutional knowledge with those who have worked with him. TAD, a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, has its headquarters in Winchester, Va., with its work carried out overseas.
He epitomizes the TAD imperatives to engage with each other and with customers, to execute the mission with world-class delivery, and to evolve -- both professionally and organizationally.
"It's critical in any organization -- and particularly in an organization like TAD -- to keep evolving to the next level," Zeltner said. "I've never wanted to be that person who has the 'that's-the-way-we-do-it' mentality. Every organization needs 'fresh eyes' -- fresh approaches -- and I believe that no one should stay in a job longer than five years.
"I've always groomed my people to do my job," he continued. "I've pushed my people to be the face of Programs -- to step up, to brief the general officer or the customer, to give them opportunities outside their comfort zone while coaching them as they gain that experience. They may have done things differently than I would have, but that's fine. Throughout it all, I've emphasized that they must take care of the customer because that's why we're here."
Zeltner has served with the Transatlantic Division in multiple capacities for the last eight years, including three years while deployed to Afghanistan. During that time, he has witnessed dramatic change within the Division -- in both its workload and structure but never its mission.
TAD provides design, construction, and related engineering services directly supporting U.S. Central Command and other activities within its area of operations spanning the Middle East and Central Asia. The work includes provision of facilities for U.S. military forces, support to other U.S. government agencies such as the State Department, engineering services to foreign government agencies under the Defense Department's foreign military sales program, and construction of facilities in Afghanistan to promote stability.
This overseas work is carried out by the Division's two districts and two task forces. Staffing is a mixture of permanent and temporary employees and those who deploy on overseas contingency operations. More than 12,000 civilians have deployed voluntarily in support of efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"What we do supports the warfighter every day," Zeltner said. "Anyone who works for this Division must have that focus and cannot lose sight of the fact that we exist to help customers meet their schedules and their goals. We must be in that mindset.
"I advise new employees to get involved and learn the operational side of our business. Understand the operational plans of the combatant commander. Understand the customer's needs. Our job is to deliver projects to the warfighter. And that delivery applies to both the U.S. military customer as well as the allied customer. That's because our work in the Middle East supports our Defense Department and our State Department in bringing peace to America.
"In some respects, I feel like I've spent the last nine years being assigned to a combat unit. The work is always fast paced, always challenging. Every customer's facility emergency is our emergency."
Zeltner served in leadership positions in TAD-Forward based in Afghanistan for four years before being selected for his current position in 2014. He returned stateside at a time when the TAD faced uncertainty in its programs and staffing. Since then, he has seen a measure of stability return to the organization.
Part of that is a changing attitude toward TAD across USACE. "There's a recognition that TAD isn't going anywhere. I'm amazed at the lists we're now getting for vacancies," Zeltner said. "We used to get lists with six to eight people; now we are seeing lists with 50 people, and they're good, quality candidates. This is what we need for an evolving organization."
Zeltner's civilian career with USACE also includes stints with the Gulf Region South District in Iraq; Pittsburgh District; and Tulsa District. He retired from the U.S. Army in 2003 with 21 years of service. Before his military retirement, he had orders to deploy to Iraq but an injury prevented that deployment.
"I wanted to deploy to Iraq then," he said. "USACE gave me the opportunity later to have that deployment -- to complete that desire -- by serving with the Gulf Region South District performing reconstruction in Iraq. It was one of the best assignments of my career."
He also said that being part of the Afghanistan program was a career highlight, with the opportunity to help deliver facilities for the Afghan security forces and the Afghan Infrastructure Program to provide reliable water and power to the Afghan people.
His favorite job, though, was while he was still in the U.S. Army, serving as a company commander at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., where he was called up for deployment to Saudi Arabia during Operation Desert Storm. There he was an advisor to the Office of the Program Manager, Saudi Arabian National Guard.
"My time is up at the Transatlantic Division. I've done what I can. I've done my best. Now it's time for someone else to step in and bring the skills and capability to help TAD provide great service to USCENTCOM and all our customers," Zeltner said.