ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- For three weeks in July, ROTC Cadet Robert Thomas had the opportunity to step out of the College/ROTC world and literally experience "boots on the ground" learning and exploring in and around the Albuquerque District.

Thomas, a soon-to-be junior at Syracuse University and majoring in mechanical engineering, gained this opportunity through the Cadet District Engineer Program, or CDEP, offered through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers headquarters. This yearly internship program assigns cadets to USACE districts world-wide. This program not only allows the participants hands-on experience, but it also introduces them to the breadth and depth of employment the Corps of Engineers offers.

For both Thomas, and his twin brother, Cadet Michael Thomas, also in ROTC, the desire to serve in the military occurred very early in their lives.

"I've wanted to serve since I was in 7th grade," Thomas recalled. "My dad served for eight years in Maritime Law Enforcement in the Coast Guard. "He even served in Desert Storm."

Even though their parents stressed the importance of service, education was always a top priority. "I decided that ROTC was the best of both worlds," said Thomas.

Capt. Brian Williams, project engineer at the District's Kirtland Air Force Base resident office, served as Thomas' mentor while at the District. He most certainly kept Cadet Thomas busy!

During his whirlwind time here, Thomas toured many District projects. He was also given a tour July 24, of the Fort Bliss Hospital Complex, a project of the Fort Worth District.

Thomas also had the opportunity to visit Tamaya Drainage Project, which the District shares with Santa Ana Pueblo. He visited the Cochiti and Abiquiu lakes and dams, and the Middle Rio Grande Restoration Project, where he observed concrete pours.

Cadet Thomas even managed to venture out for some New Mexico hiking adventures. He and Williams hiked Tent Rocks, near Cochiti Lake, and Petroglyph National Monument, west of Albuquerque. They also attended Feast Day at Santa Ana Pueblo on July 26.

And what did Cadet Thomas learn from this experience?

"My greatest takeaway is that I have a better understanding of the many Corps of Engineers missions," he said. "I also have enjoyed seeing how the field of engineering, in general, functions outside, in the real world. I have also learned to keep an open mind, and to be very aware about what is going on around me. This was a tremendous experience."

Thomas will be commissioned a second lieutenant when he graduates in two years. The Albuquerque District wishes him the best of luck.