Deputy commander bids farewell to Europe District

Published Aug. 6, 2013
WIESBADEN, Germany – For two years, Lt. Col. Michelle Garcia made a top command priority her personal mission.

In her role as U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Europe District deputy commander, Garcia guided the organization’s general and administrative branch chiefs and also was responsible for program and activity management throughout this area of operations. During a farewell last month, district leaders and officials praised her ability to transcend the job description and effectively bridge divides between personnel, support functions and resources.

“Lieutenant Colonel Garcia ran things here at headquarters on a daily basis as I traveled the district,” said Col. Peter Helmlinger, the Europe District commander. “She more than fulfilled my intent to take care of people. You can see the lives she’s impacted.

“We are very sad to see her go. My No. 1 priority is to take care of people, and she did an exceptional job during her two years here. She went out of her way to make Europe District a family and a home.”

Garcia is headed to Fort Leavenworth, Kan., where she’ll serve as a leadership instructor in the Combined Arms Center’s Command and General Staff College. She relinquished her position July 22 to Lt. Col. Charles Hemphill – he arrives following an Afghanistan deployment with V Corps.

“It’s hard for me to leave – it’s hard to leave people who have been such a big part of our lives,” she said. “I have learned tremendously and grown in this organization.”

Helmlinger and Garcia came on board together in July 2011. The new command team’s philosophy quickly took shape, she recalled.

“I saw the fit, where I was the champion for his priority of taking care of people,” she added. “That’s what I tried to do every day. You’re never really sure if you are truly having an impact, but the farewell events and the people who have come up to me and shared how some of those efforts have benefited them has been very rewarding.”

Garcia thanked Helmlinger for giving her the latitude and flexibility to tackle the job.

“What I will miss most is the freedom to do things the way I thought they needed to be done,” she said. “I have to thank him for being that kind of boss – he didn’t just say he trusted his division chiefs; his actions showed that he did. He gave us the mission and let us run with it and trusted that we had the knowledge, judgment and experience to accomplish it.”

The former deputy commander said she appreciated the opportunity to work with Europe District’s Leadership Development Program classes and military development efforts.

“You can see the talent we have here in the district, and see the fact that the district is dedicating the resources to develop and nurture that talent,” she said.

Garcia also enjoyed interacting with the Special Emphasis Program Committee and its annual activities, including Asian-American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, Black History Month and Women’s History Month.

“It just amazed me each time with the ideas and the effort and energy they put into those events,” she said. “The volunteerism we see across the district – people are not just here to do their job. We have people who go the extra mile to do their jobs just a little better or volunteer outside their job. That was very inspiring.”

Garcia and her husband, Joe, had been in Germany since 2007. Before arriving in the district, she spent four years with the 15th Engineer Battalion in Schweinfurt.

“We loved being able to truly experience the German culture in the communities and festivals … and make friends with some of the Germans living around Wiesbaden and Mainz,” she said. “To truly enjoy the local experience has been wonderful.”

Looking ahead professionally, Garcia is eager for the next stage in her military career, she says.

“I’m excited at the opportunity to make a difference in the future leadership of the Army,” she said. “Here, working with civilians and not just Soldiers, I think that sets me up well to be able to give a good perspective to our future leaders.”

Garcia worked some with Hemphill during her deployment to Iraq, just prior to joining Europe District. The two collaborated on engineer transition issues as the Middle East District replaced the Gulf Region District.

She said her old duties here are in very capable hands.

“I can be comfortable leaving knowing that the district is getting a wonderful new deputy that can provide the experience and continuity for the next two or three years,” she said. “He’s a great leader who’s ready to hit the ground running. … I have no worries about the transition.”