By Eric Pilgrim | Fort Knox NewsDecember 12, 2019
When Pat Walsh arrived at Fort Knox in February of 1981, the Directorate of Public Works was a very different place.
He arrived on the scene as a GS-7 mechanical engineer. Nearly 39 years later, the director of DPW prepares to hang up his hardhat for a new adventure. When he retires, he'll leave behind a legacy of engineering excellence that has earned attention and praise at the highest echelons of the Department of Defense, Department of Energy and other federal agencies.
Those who know him say all the praise for him is hardly understated.
"He's the best DPW in the Army, by far," said Pat Appelman, the director of DPW at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.
Emmet Holley, deputy to the commander of U.S. Army Garrison at Fort Knox, agreed.
"I'm probably Pat Walsh's greatest fan," Holley said.
Appelman came to Fort Knox from Headquarters, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command in 1989, and found himself working in the same Engineering Division as Walsh, although in a different branch. Walsh was the Electrical Mechanical Branch chief at the time.
"We became friends outside of work," said Appelman. "Our kids were the same age, and we coached little league sports together. Our kids won a [local Elizabethtown] super bowl together in little league, and won a world series together.
"I consider him my big brother."
It wasn't until the year 2000 that Appelman began working under the leadership of Walsh.
"He became the chief of the Engineering Division at that time. I was working then as a project architect, doing a lot of renovations, and it was at that point we were dubbed 'the Pats."
Appelman attributed much of his own career successes to the close relationship he has developed with Walsh over the years.
"He has been the most important mentor in my career; the one I've learned the most from," said Appelman. "He mentored me all the way up to the day I left, and I still call him on occasion now for advice. He's been very important to me."
It was Walsh who alerted Appelman to the DPW director position at Fort Campbell.
"He's the one who sent me the email where they were seeking someone," said Appelman. "I told him I was going to apply for the job; he told me he was afraid that was going to happen."
Holley said Walsh has provided that kind of thoughtful support and mentorship with countless others, a trait Holley was looking for when it came time to hire the next director of DPW at Fort Knox. He said there was a great pool of applicants that had applied for the position.
"Here was the intangible piece that kind of just kind of set him aside from other candidates. There was a passion in the way he would respond with how he wanted to lead the organization, and what he wanted to do in terms of making Fort Knox better for people to live and work and play," said Holley. "You could tell it was a sincere desire on his behalf. You could tell it was more than a job; it was something he wanted to do."
Walsh grew in and around the post, his father working as a noncommissioned officer in charge of a dining facility. After graduating high school in Hardin County, Walsh earned a degree in engineering at the University of Kentucky, then came back to Fort Knox to take the mechanical engineer job.
Appelman said some of Walsh's success lies in understanding complicated regulations and how to work within their parameters to accomplish tasks.
"Pat's very much a by-the-book person. We have a lot of regulations, we have a lot of guidance, we have a lot of standard operating procedures in the DPW world," said Appelman. "There's probably no one who knows those better than Pat Walsh; in fact, I'm sure there's not. He's really good at knowing the right answers to things."
Another side to Walsh's excellent leadership, according to Appelman, is how he works with others.
"He's been very supportive of me my whole career. He's done nothing but promote and help me, and never held me back on anything, which is very commendable," said Appelman. "Fort Knox is shorthanded and doesn't have the amount of people that it needs, but he's never let that get in the way of professional development or any promotion anyone's tried to get to better themselves. It's very laudable.
"He's also one of the most professional people you will ever meet; he's always on point."
Another member of Walsh's team and a fellow engineer, R.J. Dyrdek attributed Walsh with being the guiding light behind the major modern-day transitions in energy efficiency that have put Fort Knox on the map.
Accomplishments include replacing clunky, expensive florescent lighting across the entire business district of the installation with state-of-the-art, efficient LED lighting, becoming the first in the Defense Department to become entirely energy independent during power outages, and cutting U.S. Army Human Resources Command's energy costs to the tune of millions of taxpayer dollars. For his efforts, Walsh earned the Secretary of the Army's Individual Exceptional Performance award and the Federal Energy Management Program's engineer manager of the year accolades, as well as being instrumental in leading Fort Knox DPW to nearly two dozen energy accolades over the years.
While developing a list of Walsh's accomplishments, Dyrdek learned how in 1984 federal employees maintained all utilities under different categories that were known as "The Shops."
"When they had a gas shop, an electric shop, a water shop, a boiler shop, they all did that stuff together, and he was the leader of that group," said Dyrdek, the Energy Program manager at DPW. "He was instrumental in everything from getting it to go to a privatized skillset to keeping all the employee positions and helping them improve their efficiencies."
Dyrdek met Walsh in 2009 when he came on board. Walsh was the Energy manager at the time.
"He's been instrumental in energy from the perspective of, all the other energy managers I talk to might be outrageously good energy managers, but they meet a lot of opposition from their command and their bosses; he's just the opposite," said Dyrdek. "He was a push and advocate and yell-at-you 'Come on, let's get it done' type manager instead of being an obstacle to make it harder for you to get anything accomplished."
Dyrdek said Walsh's engineer background helped a lot in getting jobs accomplished because Walsh wasn't intimidated or overwhelmed by the technical aspects of projects.
"Very rarely as an engineer do you get to talk to somebody above you that helps," said Dyrdek. "Usually, you have to prepare to talk them into a project.
"Management is the whole reason why our energy program is where it's at."
Holley said Walsh has been successfully leading Fort Knox through the transition of much more than just energy, including advocating for facility renovations, new facilities, and even updated water pipes.
"A lot of times Pat would advocate to do things that were not too sexy. When you are replacing water lines, there's not a lot of sexiness about that," said Holley. "Pat knew that in order to truly make sure that everything above the ground was functioning well, the base infrastructure had to be solid."
Walsh's pitch to replace antiquated, leaky wooden waterlines with modern pipes led to major cost savings and greater efficiency.
"We were losing thousands of gallons of water through our infrastructure that was never getting into our buildings to be utilized. It was just being leaked into the environment," said Holley. "Pat took that on soon after he became director to replace all that infrastructure."
Walsh has also been instrumental in leading the installation through the construction of better windows, walls and floors as well as streamlining the repair and replace process for greater efficiency. He has also led DPW in providing range access that promotes quality training of military personnel.
Dyrdek said it will be bittersweet when Walsh leaves Fort Knox at the end of the year. He is sad that Walsh will be leaving, but he is leaving behind a new DPW director who also has an engineering background.
Appelman said he too will miss Walsh.
"Pat is a great mentor, a great mind," said Appelman, "and he's a very good friend. He's worked a lot of hours, so I'm glad he's reached a point where he can relax and take time off."
Holley said Walsh's legacy of excellence will outlive him for years to come.
"Even though Pat never wore the uniform, he always had a clear view about the Soldiers and why he was supporting them. He knew these Soldiers were eventually going to potentially go into harm's way, and he wanted to make sure they didn't have to worry about their houses, and power, and their families being taken care of," said Holley. "He will definitely be missed.
"He was a great leader, but an even better person."