By James WoodsFebruary 14, 2020
Position: Civil Engineer, Levee Safety Program Manager
Years with SWL: 35, 38 years of federal service
Hometown: Johnsville, Arkansas
Education: BSCE, University of Arkansas
Certifications: Professional Engineer
Hobbies: Does eating, sleeping and watching TV count as a hobbies, if not, bowling and walking (to the bed, refrigerator and back to the sofa to pick up the remote control).
Q: You have been with the district 35 years, how has your job changed over the years?
A: There was this "slow morphing," you look up and things are not like they use to be, kind of like aging, one day you look in the mirror your hair is gray and the next day you look in the mirror and your hair is gone.
Most of my career has been in the geotechnical side of the house, when I first started there was a lot of military construction going on and the Arkansas River Operation and Maintenance (CA31007222 - I bet a lot of people have no clue what that was) mostly. We had one computer, fist fights broke out, if you did not win, you looked over the shoulder of the one that did (if your eyes weren't closed) - they called them the good old days. Geotech and survey were the first boots on the ground, we laid out the survey, developed boring and testing plans then, analyzed the test results. Our designs were sent to Southwestern Division for technical reviews, a fresh set of eyes from experienced engineers. They call this a "Stove Pipe" and that it was an archaic way of doing business and not efficient. I say it was a simple and efficient way of making sure things were done right. Now we have no drill crew, much of the design is contracted out, it is difficult to keep up with the process, a process that was supposed to be more efficient. Writing this short paragraph I realized, my hair is gone. All the things we used to do, we don't do anymore or they have changed so much they are not recognizable.
Q: What positions have you held in the district?
A: This may sound a little boring, but my job has remained relatively the same for these 35 years. Working as a geotechnical engineer as either a designer or as the LSPM. There was the training program when I first started (1.5 years) and the short time in Project Manager (2 years), but mostly it has been the same.
Q: What was your favorite job position and why?
A: Working in Geotech, that is why I never left.
Q: What are your short and long term professional and personal goals?
A: Professional - Short Term: Work with the next LSPM before I retire.
Long Term: Retire
A: Personal - First I want to be more active in my church and then I would like to teach middle school or junior high math.
Q: What do you do to instill your veteran knowledge in new employees?
A: I try to explain "WHY"...I sometimes don't think I do a good job with that explanation, but I think it is important to know WHY.
Q: What do you enjoy most about your job?
A: The most enjoyable can also be the most frustrating, but a big part of my job is working with the levee sponsors and stakeholder. When I see the results of a Running Water Levee rehab, I smile. But, when I see levee sponsors/stakeholders not able to properly maintain their levee because there is a lack of funds and we can't do anything to assist that is very tough.
Q: What projects are you working on now and what are some of the challenges?
A: We are working to complete the design for the levees damaged during the spring 2019 flood and we are continuing our inspections of the levees within the district.
Q: What has been your favorite project you have worked on?
A: I always consider myself and those that were in the district for the design of Montgomery Point Lock and Dam very fortunate. We had not designed and constructed a Lock and Dam in over 20 years prior to MPLD. From the initial site investigation, through design and construction it was something "SPECIAL".
Another project I feel very lucky to have been a part of was the Periodic Inspection/Structural Evaluation of the Mosul Dam in Iraq. I was lucky enough to be the co-lead for the inspection team and lead the writing of the evaluation report.
Q: What ways have you found to balance your home life with the busy schedule you have at work?
A: The balance is simple HOME COMES BEFORE WORK. The tough part is explaining to the family that work will sometimes interfere with family.
Q: Tell us something about yourself we don't know?
A: God blessed me, I was raised by the best parents in the world. I can only hope that everyone can make that same statement.