Longtime deputy district engineer retires from USACE as agency gets new civilian leader

Published Feb. 24, 2016
WIESBADEN, Germany – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recently bid farewell to its longtime deputy district engineer in Europe, and a familiar face is back to take over the organization’s top civilian leadership post.

In late January, Mark Roncoli retired after 37 years in federal service, the past decade coming at Europe District. As Program and Project Management Division chief, he helped guide the largest geographic district in USACE, supporting two U.S. combatant commands in more than 100 countries. It’s responsible for a complex construction program that averages $550 million in annual support to over 80 strategic partners throughout European Command and Africa Command’s vast areas of operation.

“Ten years with the district, and Mark has just done amazing things,” said Col. Matthew Tyler, the Europe District commander. “Some of the largest programs in the district’s history [took place] under his watch. To be able to handle that magnitude of work with the turnover we have in our organization … and be able to stay on top of that is remarkable.”

John Adams steps into the deputy district engineer position after 12 years at Norfolk District, where he was chief of Military Programs. He’s no stranger to Germany, however, having worked as an area engineer with the district in Ansbach from 2001 to 2003.

At his farewell ceremony Jan. 22, Roncoli praised colleagues for their contributions to the mission, calling his time here and the opportunities it brought “both professionally and personally rewarding.” He also said few districts across USACE can rival the workload managed by Europe on two continents.

“What’s different about us is the magnitude, diversity and importance of our mission and what we are delivering for our partners and stakeholders,” he said. “When I first arrived, we were busy. Over the 10 years I’ve been here, our missions have multiplied. … The magnitude, importance and challenges have grown. It’s been a tremendous experience and honor to have worked with the professionals at Europe District through all of it.”

Programs launched or completed during Roncoli’s tenure range from Efficient Basing Grafenwoehr and the Aegis Ashore missile defense systems in Romania and Poland to Department of Defense Education Activity schools and the Rhine Ordnance Barracks Medical Center Replacement near Ramstein Air Base. More recently, the district has taken on key projects within the European Reassurance Initiative and European Infrastructure Consolidation, which are aimed at realigning U.S. forces, boosting national security, fortifying regional stability and reassuring NATO allies.

“All these things wouldn’t be possible without a tremendous leader at the helm,” Tyler said. “Another thing that stands out even more is Mark’s commitment to professional development. What he did with our Leadership Development Program, starting it off again and serving as the main person overseeing the program for the past eight years, is really something above and beyond.

“He could’ve just come up here and worried about execution, about getting the projects and programs done. … But he really thought about developing others and making the organization better, making our personnel better.”

A former Army colonel who spent 27 years on active duty, Roncoli was born at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center to an American father and German mother. His dad taught and coached at Kaiserslautern High School.

But Roncoli never got stationed here – until joining the Corps of Engineers.

“Finally getting the opportunity to come to Germany was exciting,” he recalled. “Exploring Europe brought tremendous personal satisfaction, and then I got professional satisfaction being in the position where I was able to help steer the organization a bit. I enjoyed that experience.”

Europe District’s huge footprint is challenging enough, he said, but the different nation agreements governing safety and building codes add another layer of complexity. The organization also must juggle a constant rotation of personnel and its impact on institutional knowledge.

“Our challenge has always been managing the turnover and ensuring high-quality project delivery,” he added. “And we’ve done a remarkable job of that, because we haven’t had any slowdown. The pace has increased.”

Roncoli said the most significant milestone for him took place in 2012, when the district handed over the Shalikashvili Mission Command Center, the new U.S. Army Europe headquarters at Clay Kaserne.

“When that was completed, you could see something magnificent visually and know that change was happening in Europe, because the leadership had moved from Heidelberg to Wiesbaden,” he said. “Our participation in getting USAREUR out of Heidelberg and positioned here with that facility … was the crowning achievement. We saw it from beginning to end.”

Adams, meanwhile, has visited several project sites and district members around Europe since arriving at the end of November.

“The operational tempo is extremely high,” he said. “Everyone I’ve met so far has shown constant professionalism. Our workload is huge and diverse, and it’s very strategic in nature.”

The new deputy district engineer has served as a Defense Department civilian for more than 30 years, including the first 15 with Naval Facilities Engineering Command. In 2011, Adams completed a 10-month deployment to Afghanistan out of Norfolk.

He says it’s vital for Europe District staffers not to lose sight of why they’re here, but also balance the “blistering pace” with family and other commitments outside work.

“I am so proud to be a part of this team of professionals here in Europe,” he said. “We all need to understand that we are here to execute our mission to further national security objectives in support of our great nation. First and foremost, we need to successfully deliver this incredibly diverse program.

“Success is a team sport. We need to openly communicate and collaborate at all levels within our organization and ensure our partners are members of the collective team.”

Roncoli and Adams had a two-month transition overlap. The outgoing civilian leader praised his successor.

“He knows Europe, he knows the Corps of Engineers and he knows North Atlantic Division,” Roncoli said. “He’s going to do well here. I wish him much success, because that means the district’s doing well, too.”

At the outset of his own Europe District tour in January 2006, Roncoli thought he might stay three or four years, he said. The decade-long stint saw him work alongside five different commanders.

“When I took off the uniform, it was time. And I’ve served here 10 years,” he added. “It was unimaginable that we’d stay this long, but it’s been absolutely fantastic. We’re so very thankful for the time we had.”

Roncoli and his wife, Joanne, were headed home to Johnson City, Tennessee. He says immediate plans include getting their house in order, visiting family and friends, and traveling the U.S.