SAVANNAH, Ga. -- The pair have had an ascendant year in their professional lives.
From leading tactical projects for the operational Army to managing multimillion dollar construction projects impacting a community of thousands, Capt. Joshua Moore and 1st Lt. Thomas Zarack entered the Technical Engineer Competency Development Program, or TEC-DP, to tackle some of the district’s leading military construction projects.
TEC-DP offers junior lieutenants with engineering degrees 18-24 months of USACE experience before entering the Engineer Captain’s Career Course (ECCC). The broadening opportunity provides strategic, enterprise level experience and develops officers’ technical skills while filling key billets within USACE.
Annually, about 10-12 lieutenants pass through the program at districts throughout USACE. Currently, Savannah has three participants with four additional lieutenants scheduled to arrive by winter. Once promoted to captain, officers depart to fill spots in their respective professional military courses, said Capt. Donnie Schmidt II, a Captain’s Assignment Officer for the Engineer Regiment at Human Resources Command.
“It’s an opportunity to broaden outside a tactical unit,” said Schmidt. “It allows the officer to attain USACE experience at a junior grade and helps the Army to more effectively employ engineer company grade manpower to support USACE and Army requirements.”
Moore and Zarack, both stationed at Fort Gordon, left assignments leading Army construction platoons. Their platoons consisted of Soldiers trained to build temporary structures or small-scale projects that maintain skills or cross-train Soldiers with little engineering experience, said Moore.
Graduating from tactical to strategic responsibilities, the program exposes both to construction management. This includes initiating contracts, developing scopes of work, quality assurance inspections and pairs them with licensed professional engineers who put their stamps on projects that are going to last years, even decades, said Zarack.
“This is the next level of professionalism,” said Zarack. “Our work doesn’t just affect line units, but affects large military and civilian populations.”
Moore confesses, “I know enough to be dangerous now.”
But Moore’s attitude after initially arriving was to admit he knew very little about USACE processes and procedures and remain humble among his more accomplished colleagues.
“I have to do more than show up to meetings,” he said. “It forces me to get to know contractors and co-workers, show that I’m willing to learn and soak in their knowledge.”
Zarack said he had residential construction experience and college exposure to concepts of construction management but no experience working as key personnel on projects with price tags above six figures.
“In line units, we typically receive a rough floor plan and then the team has to make it happen,” said Zarack. “USACE has a broader mission to construct and maintain important military and civilian infrastructure ... creating the need for a more detailed construction process.”
While the officers aren’t necessarily swinging the hammers, wiring the buildings or operating the dams, they are managing many of the projects assigned to their respective field or district offices. And the program serves as a barometer for those who may want join the Corps later in their careers.
“TEC-DP is a great opportunity for those who are unsure about serving in USACE as a more senior officer or for officers who have an interest and may want to command within USACE as a lieutenant colonel and beyond,” said Schmidt. “It gives [participants] an opportunity to get in early to see if they really like USACE.”
TEC-DP began nearly eight years ago when the Army sought to use the talent of a large backlog of lieutenants following the Iraq War’s troop surge in 2007. The program is now an integral step on an engineer officers’ career ladder, which typically weaves between broadening and key developmental opportunities as lieutenants promote through the ranks, said Schmidt.
Moore moves to his next assignment as a student in the Captain’s Career Course next month while Zarack has until next spring before he completes the program. Both expressed interest in returning to USACE later in their careers.
“I think the TEC-DP is a great way to bridge the gap between your idle time as a lieutenant and your career course,” said Zarack. “I need to return to line units to develop tactical skills outside of the Corps but I would love to come back at some point in my career.”
Moore said he foresees returning about 10 years from now but will remember and appreciate the knowledge, care and efforts of those who helped him to excel. Now, he departs as an advocate for emerging talent.
“I’ve already sold the program to a lieutenant who’s assigned to the Walla Walla District,” he said.