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Europe District’s Office of Counsel tackles unique challenges in supporting overseas mission

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Europe District
Published April 12, 2021
Attorney Leslie Reed, second from the left, and other teammates from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Europe District pose at a contractor outreach event on November 6, 2019 in Bulgaria geared toward educating contractors about working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Reed said the increased engagement with the contracting community is one of the things she finds enjoyable about working as an attorney overseas with the Europe District. (Courtesy Photo)

Attorney Leslie Reed, second from the left, and other teammates from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Europe District pose at a contractor outreach event on November 6, 2019 in Bulgaria geared toward educating contractors about working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Reed said the increased engagement with the contracting community is one of the things she finds enjoyable about working as an attorney overseas with the Europe District. (Courtesy Photo)

WIESBADEN, Germany - The Office of Counsel is critical to delivering projects in any U.S. Army Corps of Engineers District office — and overseas in Europe District is no exception.

“Our skilled attorneys here in Europe District are instrumental in ensuring we remain legally compliant and can deliver for our partners in a host of unique legal environments across the dozens of countries where our missions take us,” said Europe District Commander Col. Pat Dagon.

Europe District’s wide array of projects and missions include providing design and construction capabilities and more to U.S. and allied troops and ally and partner nations throughout Europe, Africa and Israel.

“I really enjoy working for the Corps of Engineers, I enjoy the mission and I’ve always had great satisfaction from what we do every day,” said Attorney Jay Aldridge, who has been with Europe District for the past 10 years. “But then, to do that overseas in Europe and in Africa is even more rewarding because it’s so much different than what any of our counterparts in the states do. No project is routine, there is always something different depending on which country it’s being performed in, or for which of our customers.”

Attorney Leslie Reed, who joined Europe District’s Office of Counsel from stateside Baltimore District in 2018, said she finds there’s also more interaction with contractors, especially prior to COVID. She explained that she or other attorneys may provide additional information or guidance at open events to groups of contractors that are interested in bidding on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers projects.

“Often, these contractors haven’t worked with the U.S. before and we’re very different than working for other government entities so I’ll walk them through U.S. laws that may apply and which host nation laws may apply,” Reed said. “I really like the face to face interactions with the contractors at these kind of events, which for Office of Counsel is unusual. It’s one of my favorite parts of the position here.”

Another unique aspect of being an overseas office is that Europe District’s attorneys offer certain services to personnel assigned to the District including notary and power of attorney services.

Reed clarified though that like any other District, reviewing contracts makes up a large part of the work of the Office of Counsel.

“We’re still reviewing contracts, and it’s our job to make sure things are legally sufficient and it’s our job to defend them when somebody challenges that,” Reed said. “We make sure problems don’t work their way to the end result, and that the contracts are healthy and defensible.”

She added that with the various factors making each project and contract unique, the Office of Counsel is more deeply involved with the project delivery teams than what she experienced stateside.

“There are also smaller projects, like humanitarian assistance projects, that stateside aren’t subject to legal review due to lower dollar values, but they require legal reviews here to ensure host-nation compliance.” Reed said. “Because of that, we may have eyes on more contracts than stateside.”

Several members of the Europe District Office of Counsel have served in overseas positions for many years and have gained significant experience in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers overseas legal practice.  

Aldridge, who has been with Europe District for ten years, said this depth of experience is especially valuable when it comes to working in so many different countries and keeping track of precedents in the interpretation of past international agreements. 

“Continuity in the Office of Counsel is really important because of the vastly different legal issues that we encounter over here than would be encountered in the U.S.,” Aldridge said. “Every single country is different and not only do they have different international agreements that dictate how we operate in or execute construction in a country, but each country has developed idiosyncrasies over the years with how a particular agreement is interpreted or applied. A lot of times, project teams seek us out and want us to be part of their project delivery teams because we have a lot of that institutional knowledge of how to do business in a particular country.”

While there are of course similarities in the work overseas as compared to an Office of Counsel at a District stateside, Reed said the differences are part of what makes working in Europe District so enjoyable.

“I really like the issues presented by the different countries,” Reed said. “I like the challenge you get from the international aspect. It’s always new what you’re doing, there’s always a new question you haven’t grappled with yet.”