When Cadet Samantha Lowdermilk was assigned a summer cadet District Engineer opportunity with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Middle East District (MED) through the Army ROTC program at the University of Virginia, it was something both old and completely new to her.
Lowdermilk’s father Scott Lowdermilk, an Army civilian and a colonel in the Army Reserves with USACE’s Transatlantic Division, has worked for USACE longer than she’s been alive but like most children, she didn’t pay close attention to his work.
“I saw enough that I wanted to follow him into the Army, and he’s talked to me a lot about the different branches so I understand my options,” said Lowdermilk, “but we’ve never really talked that much about his job with the District and Transatlantic Division until I found out I got this internship.”
Over her time with MED, Lowdermilk, a rising senior and international affairs major at UVA, had the chance to learn about the USACE mission, gain perspective from several different officers and travel to the Middle East for a firsthand look at MED project sites.
One of the officers who was able to mentor her was Major Chelsey O’Nan, one a MED program manager forward based in Kuwait. O’Nan noted how unique the opportunity was for Lowdermilk.
“This was a really good opportunity for her,” O’Nan said. “Not only did she get to travel to a part of the world few other cadets will have the chance to go, she also got a look at one of the hidden novelties the Engineer Regiment, USACE. Cadet Lowdermilk received the chance to spend time working with an organization that’s primarily civilian and meeting some of the civilians who serve their country overseas in a contingency area, something few military engineers get to do or see.”
Lowdermilk appreciated her chance to talk to O’Nan and get the perspective she offered.
“The Engineer branch is one of my top choices coming out of school but I’m actually majoring in foreign affairs. Talking to Major O’Nan was great because her undergraduate degree was in economics. She has a graduate degree in engineering management. It was motivating to meet an officer in the Engineer Branch who isn’t an engineer but is still doing exciting, valuable work for USACE,” she said.
According to Lowdermilk, some of the highlights of her trip were getting to see firsthand an overseas contingency location, visiting with the 395th FEST and sitting in on several meetings with some of MED’s foreign partners.
“I enjoyed meeting the FEST because it was a chance to see actual military engineers using the skills and degrees they went to school for. And as an international affairs major it was valuable for me to see how USACE fits into our overall national security by building these relationships with militaries from other countries and to observe things like how we take into account cultural considerations and their impact on projects, particularly during Ramadan when I was over there. “
Colonel Stephen Bales, MED’s commander agreed with Lowdermilk during an out brief she presented to district personnel about her experience.
“I’m really glad you’ve made the most of your time with us,” Bales said. “Few other cadets will get to experience in an organization as diverse as ours in terms of people, projects and the different countries we work in while supporting CENTCOM.”
Lowdermilk, who spent time at the district’s headquarters in Winchester, VA, as well as in Kuwait, noted the value in seeing both sides of the district’s operations.
“As an example, I got to talk to contracting officers in Winchester and then their counterparts in the field. It really takes both sides working together to make things work.”
Lowdermilk finished her CLT with the district on 8 June and will return to UVA in the fall. She graduates in 2019 and hopes to go directly on active duty as an Army officer in either the military intelligence or engineering branch.