SAVANNAH, Ga. – On the heels of his freshman year at UCLA, Army ROTC Cadet Justin Wynne arrived with a lean understanding of the Corps as a new intern with the Cadet District Engineer Program here. By week four, he departed fleshed with experience on some of the district’s principal works, including the all-encompassing Savannah Harbor Expansion Project.
The CDEP, a brisk, four-week internship, offers cadets a holistic view of select Corps projects, honing their skills in the execution of project management, planning, leadership and other faculties. Cadets are also introduced to the various engineers employed by the Corps including civil, environmental, electrical and mechanical engineers.
Wynne, a California native grappling with his first East Coast visit and internship, arrived Aug. 17 with sharp-eyed focus and determination to conjoin his academic aptitude with real-world practicum, he said.
“It made me anxious that I was not coming … with a lot of specialized knowledge,” said Wynne. “Although I only completed one year, I still saw some roots in the projects that came from my textbooks. As an applied mathematics major, it was really cool to see some of the design and technique that I learned and will be learning in class out there on the ground.”
Wynne rotated through pivotal projects working on CSS Georgia recovery efforts, deepening of the Savannah harbor outer channel, building renovations, and Central Issuing Facilities improvements. He assisted with quality assurance inspections, attended construction meetings, reviewed contractor’s project schedules, monitored design and construction quality control plans and reviewed safety plans and pay requests.
The experience introduced him to unfamiliar terrain but also gave him the opportunity to contribute fresh ideas to the process. His immediate involvement set in motion the transition from student to practitioner on costly, consequential projects impacting the region, he said.
“[It] was a remarkable experience,” he said. “One of the aspects of my CDEP experience that I found very rewarding … was visiting a district office to see the behind-the-scenes work of planning and design, and then going down on the ground to see the project site myself to see the plan in action.”
Structured as an understudy experience, the program also pairs interns with a seasoned mentor to provide guidance and support. Mentors can also help translate organizational and industry parlances to those unversed in Corps conventions, said Wynne.
His mentor, 1st Lt. Raymond Northcutt, praised Wynne as a high performer with unfettered potential as a future leader and steward of the Army profession.
“Wynne quickly learned engineering principles encountered in the field at the construction site,” said Northcutt. “He asked pertinent questions and made insightful observations. He demonstrated a true interest in the Engineering Branch and all other aspects of being an Army officer. He was extremely eager to learn and has gained a wealth of knowledge about construction, engineering, and the Army since his arrival.”
To assuage prior military conditioning, Wynne spent a day in the Cadet Troop Leadership Training, or CTLT, shadowing a first lieutenant in a mechanized infantry and engineering unit at Fort Stewart. There, he learned how a platoon chain-of-command operates, gaining an understanding of the symbiotic relationship between commanding and non-commissioned officers.
“I saw what creates a successful partnership and contributes to overall mission readiness,” he said.
Referring to his CTLT experience, “My time with USACE did not include in depth time with traditional Army organizations … so it was very, very rewarding to see that side of the Army’s engineering, as well,” he said.
And he also found it rewarding to discover the opposite side of the country.
Weekends were typically spent exploring Savannah’s charm and storied history with stops to Fort Pulaski and the Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force.
“I really appreciate not only the technical skills but the cultural and social aspects that I learned there and it truly made my experience wholesome,” said Wynne. “My experience was very influential in terms of what I want to do in my future military career, so much that it may have placed the engineering branch as my top priority when selecting a branch.”
And equipped with new experiences and more refined technical aptitudes, now he’s on to his most formidable assignment – beginning his sophomore year of college.