Future Army officers shadow engineers at Stuttgart

Published Aug. 22, 2014
WIESBADEN, Germany – A pair of ROTC cadets are learning about the rigors and rewards of Army engineer life in a six-week stint with Europe District this summer.

Rising seniors Jessica Baldridge and Bradley Barber came to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in mid-July through its annual Engineer Internship Program. Barber is wrapping up a stay at the Stuttgart Resident Office, while Baldridge was sent to the Environmental Division within U.S. Army Garrison Stuttgart’s Directorate of Public Works. The future lieutenants will get a tour of district headquarters and operations in Wiesbaden before returning to the U.S. later this week.

For both, the Germany assignment offered an opportunity to shadow engineers, gain practical field experience and see how classroom concepts can be applied beyond graduation.

“Travel was a big part of my interest in Europe District,” said Barber, 29, a mechanical engineering major at the University of Utah. “However, I am glad I came here because there is foreign government and foreign contractor dealings that are very interesting that I would not be able to see stateside. The construction of the buildings is different due to force protection and compliance with local codes.

“Having some construction experience, I’ve seen a lot of job sites, but none like these. There’s a lot more to them than meets the eye.”

Baldridge says she “jumped at any opportunity” to pick up some real-world experience this summer in engineering fields.

“When Cadet Command opened the internship application, I saw the Engineer Internship Program and applied immediately,” said the 21-year-old from the University of Nevada, where she’s pursuing an environmental engineering degree. “Also loving to travel, I researched where the [overseas] district offices were and listed Germany as my No. 1 location preference.”

Baldridge’s dad served in the Air Force, so the military seemed like a natural fit.

“I’d like to apply what I’m learning in school and what I’m interested in to the Army’s needs, whether that be in garrison or in a combat environment,” she added. “I grew up with the military my whole life, and I’ve always liked the military mentality and structure. … Over here, I just wanted more real-world exposure. I also hoped to meet other Army officers who could offer insight on possible career paths that best utilize my degree and how to get there.”

In her work with Stuttgart DPW officials, Baldridge got insight on the garrison’s environmental program and how the division handles compliance and conservation projects, ranging from natural and cultural resources to sustainability, hazardous waste and urban tree management. She performed master planning and inspection duties while learning about the role of a contracting officer’s representative.

Baldridge attended environmental review meetings for construction and renovation projects at Stuttgart, officials said. She also gained familiarity on the garrison cleanup, drinking and wastewater programs.

“I wasn’t quite sure what to expect coming over here, as far as workload goes,” she said. “Dealing with the small cultural nuances has been interesting. However, dealing with German contractors and sitting in on meetings is sometimes a challenge because I don’t speak any German.”

Barber, meanwhile, assisted Stuttgart Resident Office project engineers with detailed site inspections, BCOE (biddability, constructability, operability and environmental) reviews and several other construction-management functions. He answered information requests, reviewed schedules and provided solid support on work sites, particularly at the $98 million school construction project near Panzer Kaserne in Boeblingen.

“He has provided excellent assistance to my office,” said Stuttgart Resident Engineer Darrick Godfrey. “While only here six weeks, his support has been invaluable and he will be sorely missed.”

Barber didn’t take the conventional path to ROTC right out of high school. In 2010, the Salt Lake City native enlisted in the Utah National Guard, serving for 18 months as a Field Artillery crew member before becoming a contracted cadet.

“I am studying engineering because from a young age I’ve always wondered how things work,” he said. “As far as my interest in being an Army engineer, I’m fascinated with what it takes to lead and motivate others. … I hoped to learn more about the roles of a project engineer and engineering officer and see what kinds of things I will have to deal with that I may not have thought about.

“It has been quite challenging with a whole lot of information to digest; however, if I’m not challenged, I’m not learning. There is a lot more to it than I thought, and I’m learning more every day.”

Seeing the Army Corps of Engineers in action will pay dividends moving forward, Barber added. It’ll help him anticipate problems that can occur on a job site and avoid pitfalls in the field.

“This ability to think critically and analyze situations and come up with timely solutions will definitely be a thing I’ll take away from this experience,” he said. “These skills are critical and need to be developed and will get better with time.”

Godfrey also lined up a few other professional-development opportunities for the cadets in Stuttgart.

Barber and Baldridge spent a day with military police earlier this month, riding along in a squad car and checking out their operations. Last week, the two linked up with an engineering officer from the 10th Special Forces Group. They heard about Stuttgart Army Airfield operations on Thursday, even accompanying the airfield commander on a flight to Pisa, Italy, and back.

“This [internship] program is extremely beneficial to these cadets,” Godfrey said. “The experience shadowing the project engineers and seeing the issues they face provides great insight into the day-to-day operations of managing construction projects. … I am confident their time here will help better prepare them for their roles as engineering leaders.”

Baldridge agrees.

“It’s all about knowledge gained,” she said. “Real-world experience isn’t something they can teach you at school, so it’s been an extremely valuable opportunity getting to see so much.”