REDZIKOWO, Poland — Maj. Katie Werback held her breath. She was seconds from jumping into 39 degree water, for fun.
Like most Sundays, she led a reluctant but excited group into the frigid Baltic Sea. As a Soldier assigned to a U.S. Navy base approximately 15 miles from the water, she couldn’t resist the chance to join a local polar plunge club during her time here.
Despite her enthusiasm for the water, it’s more common to find Werback in construction boots than a swimsuit. She’s part of the Europe District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers team managing the second Aegis Ashore ballistic missile defense project in Europe. The land-based system will include a radar site and missile battery designed to protect U.S. and NATO forces and assets in the region. In partnership with the Navy, Missile Defense Agency and Polish officials, the district oversees construction of the missile defense complex and naval support facilities totaling approximately $224 million. The project is expected to be complete in 2018.
Werback’s official title is logistics cell executive officer, but when Navy Commander Rafi Miranda arrived on base he quickly realized she was doing much more than her title implied.
“She was the post master, the real estate agent, the Polish military liaison — she was a jack of all trades. She was the go to person,” he said.
This major military construction project was Werback’s first USACE assignment.
“Since my days as a second lieutenant, I’ve wanted to work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers,” she said. “When the opportunity finally came along it was on one of the most complex projects in Europe District’s portfolio.”
Werback, a California native, joined the Army after attending University of California, Davis.
“My family is still surprised that I went into the Army,” she said. “It sounded like fun, and it still is; plus it uses all of my Girl Scouts skills. And it’s a different way of doing life. We have a community that is always there even though the people change. And they let me build stuff everywhere.”
Werback, a degreed and licensed engineer, arrived on the project site in March 2016. She was the first Corps of Engineers employee introduced to Sebastian Tarchala, the Missile Defense Agency site manager.
“In the initial stage, we were maybe about 20-30 people total,” he said. “Werback and I were in the same building and would meet daily — it was all about figuring out how we would approach this project from the logistical standpoint.”
She also helped develop the standard operating procedure for base access, Tarchala said.
“It was a tedious process that had to be coordinated through our Polish counterparts,” he added.
Werback did so many things to lay the groundwork at the onset of this project, Miranda said.
“The success we’re having right now as a team is due in part to what she did from the very beginning. Give it to her if you want it to get done,” he said.
Naval Support Facility Redzikowo is under the command of Capt. Rick Gilbert, who is responsible for the safety and security of people and assets here. When he took command, Gilbert thought his biggest challenge was going to be getting people to cooperate. But that hasn’t been the case, he said.
“We have a lot of different people working together for one mission. Katie can get everyone to go after that mission. She has that skill set. That’s why she’s so valuable here,” he said.
Werback has positively impacted the quality of life for Sailors and civilians alike with her stint as postmaster. She set up the Fleet Post Office, Tarchala said.
“She took training to qualify,” he said. “It seemed like a small thing, but it became a pretty big project. And for morale on base it was huge.
“Anything from Amazon boxes to letters from family, to bills arrive directly on base through regular U.S. mail. It took a few months because of the regulations and storage requirements that had to be met like special screens, windows and locks on doors, but Katie made it happen. Once it was up and running, she was in charge of receiving and distributing mail, on top of her regular duties.”
Outside of work Werback is a very social person. In addition to plunging into the Baltic, she enjoys CrossFit and geocaching. Plus she’s very involved in the local community, Gilbert said.
“We go out for dinners and community events; we’re in the schools teaching English and swimming, and she’s supporting all of that,” he said.
At the office, Werback is focused on overcoming challenges inherent to a complex military construction project. Utilities, for example, are running behind schedule. This may jeopardize the on time commissioning of naval facilities, Gilbert said.
“Katie is working on nonconventional ways to finish this piece of the project and still meet the mission in the end. She’s coming up with ideas that are not schedule driven, but can get us back on schedule,” he said.
In the world of construction, schedules slip and adjust all the time. On any government project one agency can’t do it alone, Tarchala said.
“There are so many organizations that work together. Relationships are really important and Katie brings cohesion and leadership to the team,” he said.
When Werback looks to her left and right she sees hardworking people who want to be here.
“Teamwork is the only way it’s going to get done,” she said. “From the military prospective, it’s a joint project with the Army Corps and the Navy. You also have the relationship with MDA and by the way, there is not one contractor, but two, and one is Turkish while the other is American with Polish subcontractors.
“We have to consider what that means for things like labor laws and permitting. That’s why we have experts from each team coming together to find the answer to every possible question on building this Aegis Ashore complex,” she said.
As Werback departs the project and USACE for Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, she will carry with her the importance of people.
“The missions are so important that you sometimes forget, but that time spent developing the individual pays dividends in the future,” she said.
It’s hard to see her go, the community here will miss her and the Navy will miss the strong, female officer presence she’s provided, Gilbert said.
“If you look at this base, it is probably about 97 percent male — having her here has been critical for my junior female Sailors. These young Sailors look at her and think, that’s me. It matters and it’s significant,” he said.
“I’m proud, like a father proud, of all she’s been able to do,” Miranda added.