A bad break can’t stop Fort Knox Energy Team
1 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – A photo of the CAT Scan shows where Fort Knox EM R.J. Dyrdek broke his neck in two places. (Photo Credit: Courtesy) VIEW ORIGINAL
Fort Knox’s Energy Program honing in on more resilience efforts toward possible independence
2 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – R.J. Dyrdek, Energy Program manager with the Fort Knox Directorate of Public Works, explains how electric energy loads works and why fuel cells will provide what the installation needs to be energy independent indefinitely. (Photo Credit: Eric Pilgrim) VIEW ORIGINAL

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas – Fort Knox Directorate of Public Works Energy Program Manager R.J. Dyrdek always knew he had a high-performing team.

The team’s innovative initiatives, ranging from geothermal heating and cooling to the combustion of natural gas that generates electricity for the installation’s 11 million square feet of space, has helped transform Fort Knox into the Department of Defense’s first energy-independent installation and saving millions of dollars annually.

What he didn’t know was just how stellar his team is until after he fell down the stairs in his home and broke his neck in two places in October. The accident kept him immobilized and out of work for 12 weeks.

“I realize now, build that support team BEFORE you fall down the stairs,” said Dyrdek, who has served as Fort Knox’s Energy Manager since 2009.

“Because I was in no way capable of calling up people and saying, ‘Can you check on that? Can you do this? Can you do that?’ I have to say for the first two weeks I didn’t even remember things I should’ve been doing on a normal basis. Everybody took them all and ran with them like it was their job. When I started to sort of participate, maybe six or seven weeks into the rehab, everybody came on board and told me, ‘I got this done, I got that done. We’re still on track, and this was going to work.’

“I count my blessings that Fort Knox’s Energy Team – and it literally is a matrix team across the entire installation – carried the ball in my absence because I wasn’t going to be useful at all. You really realize where your friends are when you’re in that state because it would’ve been a mess if nothing would’ve taken place while I was gone for 12 weeks. I learned a lot of things about the Fort Knox Energy Team, and it’s phenomenal.”

Dyrdek was relaxing and finishing watching Jeopardy! with his wife Oct. 7 when he decided to go to the basement and get some ice so he could make a drink.

“She got up and went outside, and I went, evidently, down the stairs,” Dyrdek said. “I hit somewhere on the steps. I laid at the bottom until I regained consciousness and crawled back up the stairs. By the time my wife was coming back in, she asked me what happened, and I was unable to even tell her. I still don’t have much of a memory of it. You could see blood and the things at the bottom of the steps, and you could see a blood trail up the steps. It was a horrible short period of time that could’ve ended extremely badly.”

Doctors diagnosed that Dyrdek broke his C2 vertebrae on both sides, and there was nothing holding his neck on his head other than the muscle structure. But there was a blessing to his bad break, he said.

“Usually, the spinal cord severs at that point, and you’re either paralyzed or dead,” Dyrdek said. “I broke both sides of my neck that turned out to be better than if I had broken one side. It healed straight and I didn’t have to put bolts in my head. I was able to get in this big neck brace that goes halfway down your back and chest. And it’s very effective at immobilizing you.”

Dyrdek’s teammates ensured nothing was missed while he was immobilized. Fort Knox Resource Efficiency Manager Chuck Beach served as the hub between Dyrdek and the team; DPW Director Jason Root and Deputy DPW Chris Karlsen assumed Dyrdek’s duties; engineering technician John Griffanti took responsibility for the installation’s natural gas initiatives; Deputy Garrison Commander Jim Bradford kept the Department of the Interior and Bureau of Land Management apprised of the garrison’s energy program; and Garrison Commander Col. Lance O’Bryan carried the weight of the communication and coordination with AMC and IMCOM concerning energy issues.

“Where R.J. is outstanding is taking the strategic vision of leaders and making it a reality,” Root said. “He applies a common-sense approach to where the Army can get the greatest value for the money it invests. He then doggedly pursues the money and contracts to take the abstract and turn it into something concrete.”

Root is happy Dyrdek has healed and is back with the team.

“Yes, it’s great to have R.J. back for the work that he completes,” Root said. “But it is also the thankfulness and positive attitude that R.J. carries every day. To him, each day is a gift, and he shares it with us.”