The buzz from Fort Gordon’s Cyber Center of Excellence campus is a little quieter this week -- not on account of a pause in construction, but because a key component of the massive, multiple-agency project is missing.
After nearly four years serving as the deputy commander for cyber transformation, Lt. Col. John Grabowski is moving on.
As the deputy commander for cyber transformation, Grabowski was the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Savannah District’s representative in all matters related to the complex, $1.6 billion project.
The total transformation effort includes 25 individual projects that make up a multi-year facilities modernization plan, and constitutes the largest military construction program in the continental United States.
(Learn more about the project here.)
Grabowski was the connective tissue that held everything – and everyone – together.
“He was great. A team player,” said Michael Chirpich, who worked on a weekly and sometimes daily basis with Grabowski for two years as the chief of Fort Gordon’s execution team. “He was always looking to make the program better and move things forward.”
Chirpich currently serves as the chief of civil works programs and project management branch & legislative liaison for Savannah District.
In addition to the transformation cell’s success, which included delivering the U.S. Army Cyber Command Headquarters last summer on time and on budget, Chirpich shared the downside Grabowski experienced while connecting multiple agencies like ARCYBER, U.S. Army Medical Command, U.S. Army Intelligence and Security, and Fort Gordon garrison personnel.
“He was always the one taking the shot to the face,” Chirpich said, referring to times when the projects or partnerships encountered obstacles and tempers flared. “He’d just have to stand there and take it.”
Grabowski would then find the source of the issue and smooth out the process, Chirpich said.
“You have to tell it like it is,” Grabowski said. “Here’s what went wrong, what we’re doing to fix it, and how we’re going to prevent it from happening in the future.”
As a liaison among multiple agencies including Savannah District, Grabowski said the most challenging aspect of his job was having to walk a very deliberate line, to not cross but be a valuable member on both teams.
“It’s a line,” Grabowski said. “A skinny line.”
In addition to serving primarily at Fort Gordon, Grabowski stepped up as the district’s liaison officer with Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA) during several busy hurricane seasons.
When Hurricane Florence slammed into the North Carolina coast in September 2018, Grabowski became a vital part of the unique team that paired Corps of Engineers’ technical experts and military construction prowess with active duty combat engineers to restore operations at Military Ocean Terminal Sunny Point, or MOTSU.
MOTSU is the nation’s largest ammunition port and the DoD’s primary East Coast deep-water ammunition shipping point.
Grabowski led the tactical operations center at MOTSU, which coordinated logistics requirements and synchronized information for the commander, along with scheduling and running VIP visits to the damaged installation.
“I look back on that fondly as a job we did very well,” Grabowski said.
Perhaps more than what he has accomplished professionally, Grabowski personally mentored a half dozen company grade officers and military project engineers at Fort Gordon.
Capt. Kenton Brown was one of those officers. He served with Grabowski for three years, including at MOTSU.
“His desire and drive to ensure we succeeded was inspiring,” Brown said. “It’s definitely something I had to strive to emulate and will take with me to future assignments.”
As Brown spoke while on paternity leave, his 2-year-old son cackled in the background. His second son had just been born the week before.
He said at Fort Gordon Grabowski was passionate about creating a viable and active family readiness group, even though it only consisted of about four families.
“Just watching him at Fort Gordon,” said Lt. Col. Timothy Nix, Savannah District’s deputy commander, “He has a very professional side but can be informal and approachable. It’s never just ‘Hey, here’s that phone number,’ there’s always a story or conversation.”
Nix recalled leaning heavily on Grabowski when he first arrived at the district in August 2018.
Then-Maj. Nix was beginning the process of leading his first of two FEST-A deployments to Europe.
“He was a sounding board, a really great mentor,” Nix said, referring to Grabowski, who had deployed five times as the commander of Mobile District’s 565th FEST-A. “I picked his brain on how the team worked and how to recruit new members.”
Nix said Grabowski continued to volunteer his time to train future FEST-A members as an observer / controller / trainer, as well.
“He invests in his people – in training and developing relationships,” Nix said.
Next month, Grabowski will take command of the 31st Engineer Battalion at Fort Leonard Wood. There, he’ll take responsibility for training the next generation of combat engineers and bridging engineers.
He said he’ll miss the people and relationships most from his time in Savannah District, but if history is any guide, it won’t be long before Grabowski starts building again.