Leaders are Learners at the USACE Nashville District

By Jeremy CroftMay 10, 2024

Leaders are Learners at the USACE Nashville District
Lt. Col. Robert W. Green, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District commander; Maj. Todd Mainwaring, Nashville District deputy commander; and Michael Evans, course instructor, pose with graduates of the 2023 Leadership Development Program Level I Course Sept. 13, 2023, at the Scarritt Bennett Center in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo Credit: Leon Roberts) VIEW ORIGINAL

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – On your way to the Smyrna, Tennessee National Guard Base, you’ll pass the Capt. Jeff Kuss USMC Memorial. The instantly recognizable monument is an actual Blue Angels F/A-18C Hornet in full regalia, tail number six --- the same number Kuss was flying on June 2, 2016, when a tragic in-flight accident cost him his life while preparing for the Great Tennessee Airshow.

Though most leaders throughout the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will never fly a fighter jet, the Jeff Kuss memorial is a sobering reminder of the sacrifice that leadership sometimes requires. And nearly in the shadow of this monument, operations professionals from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District gathered from April 16-18 to hone their leadership and management skills.

“Leadership is a servant position,” said Mike Looney, operations manager for the western Kentucky area of the Nashville District. “If you don’t have a desire to serve and help others, leadership is going to be difficult for you.”

The district held the training at the Regional Training Institute in Smyrna, headquarters for the 1st Battalion, 117th Regiment of the Tennessee Army National Guard.

Looney, a 37-year USACE veteran, started as a park ranger after majoring in wildlife biology, then moved into natural resource management and planning before joining the Nashville District operations staff. That’s a career course that specialists often take, moving into broader and broader disciplines as they advance their capacity for leadership.

“It’s not so much that you’re in charge, it’s that you’re responsible,” Looney said. “The Army will definitely train you to lead if that’s where you aspire to be.”

The conference was one of the many leadership training opportunities the Nashville District helps to facilitate, some being USACE-wide programs and others only available in the district. Two of these are the Leadership Development Program and the Supervisor Training Program.

At the district, LDP exists in two levels. Level 1 is open to any full-time, permanent employee; it develops participants’ basic professional and leadership skills and provides a better understanding of their individual role in the greater mission in an effort to effectively lead themselves.

Level 2 is open to supervisors, group leaders, and high potential future leaders; it develops participants’ self-awareness of personal strengths and weaknesses and their understanding of current USACE leaders’ visions and values to effectively lead others.

“We have about 800 employees in this district, but we usually only see about 30 to 35 applications for LDP1,” said Kelley Peck, program facilitator for LDP at the Nashville District. “By taking this program, you can do a lot for yourself and for others.”
Leaders are Learners at the USACE Nashville District
Kelley Peck, chief of the water resources section at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District, participates in a session of the Supervisor Training Program at the district headquarters in Nashville, Tennessee, May 8, 2024. The STP is a year-long course for supervisors that blends technical knowledge and management skills with Army values and leadership principles to produce better leaders for the organization. (Photo Credit: San Luciano Vera) VIEW ORIGINAL

The district builds community service into both LDP 1 and 2, while LDP 2’s advanced program empowers participants to research areas for improvement within the district and develop a plan to address and achieve them through a class project.

For Justin Gray, lock and dam equipment mechanic supervisor for Wheeler Lock, the Supervisor Training Course was vital in his growth as a leader. The course is like LDP in its format, including monthly meetings and independent or group assignments in between. Participants in STP are either permanent or temporary first-line supervisors.

According to Tommy Mason, one of the STP facilitators, the goal of this course is to teach “the art of supervision” through classes on Army values, performance and conduct, hiring and onboarding, and other vital supervisory roles.

Whether employees are already supervisors or just aspire to take on greater leadership roles throughout their federal careers, the Nashville District seeks to maximize opportunities for professional development across its workforce.

“Being a supervisor in the Corps is a great experience,” Gray said. “There’s really a close-knit network between all of us.”