Two captains from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Transatlantic Middle East District (TAM) recently returned from New York City where they had deployed to assist with USACE efforts to build alternate care facilities both in the city and throughout the region.
Captains Colin Sexton and Aimee Valles said the experience gave them new perspective on emergency operations and the scope of the overall effort.
“It was really cool to see how all of the local, state and federal agencies work together towards a common goal and how rapidly we’re able to respond,” said Sexton. “I’m just one small example of that. Around 2 p.m. on March 24th, I received notice I was to deploy to New York. By 2p.m. the next day I was already on the job working for (USACE’s) North Atlantic Division.”
Sexton used the analogy of a skeleton to describe how personnel from around USACE augmented the overall effort.
“The overall operations function always exists, that’s the skeleton. The people like myself, Aimee and others who augment provide the muscle and tissue that make the skeleton move.”
While Sexton worked at for the North Atlantic Division, which is responsible for coordinating USACE efforts from New England down through Virginia, Valles worked at the New York District coordinating efforts specific to the state of New York.
“I started the mission as a battle captain in the Emergency Operations Center where I was responsible for tracking and reporting the progress of Alternate Care Facilities across the state of New York,” said Valles, who prior to deploying to New York had been serving as TAM deputy area engineer in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia working on foreign military sales projects. “After a week in Manhattan, there was a growing need for oversight in logistics and I was assigned the role of District logistics officer where I controlled the health personal protective equipment (PPE) and transportation and travel tracking.”
Sexton, who when not deployed manages projects and job order contracts for the district’s Kuwait program, said that he appreciated the fact that his training as an Army officer was easily applied to the situation and enabled him and the others to jump in immediately.
“Soldiers from Lakes and Rivers Division and Transatlantic Division were also deployed with us. The Army gives you the baseline education able to show up and take their doctrine, fall in on the problem set and just make it happen. So while the particulars required some explaining, the day to day reports, operations, how you talk, who you talk to and how you get things out is something the Army teaches us pretty well. We still needed to be innovative with solutions but not how we worked through the basics,” Sexton explained.
Valles, who had been in a 14-day self-quarantine prior to deploying, was just grateful for the opportunity to help.
“I was on leave in Greece with my family when Europe as a whole was declared a level 3 travel threat. Within two days of that declaration, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia closed its borders and I was unable to return. I was forced to come back to the states and due to DOD Policy was mandated a 14 day quarantine. I spent 14 days in quarantine and watching the news every day. I had a feeling of helplessness that I think a lot of us are currently feeling so I was extremely grateful to have the opportunity to help out and was ready to get out to NYC and make an impact. What a historic way to see New York City for the first time!”
Both officers said they felt safe during the experience and well prepared for the deployment. Sexton praised his wife for her forward thinking.
“My wife is from South Korea so she was following closely what was happening there and stocked up on a lot of critical supplies very early on. Additionally the organization took great care to make sure we had the PPE we needed.”
Having already experienced one quarantine, Valles was also extra cautious.
“I’ve been very diligent in taking care of myself! Hand washing, hand sanitizer and Clorox wipes have been my best friends throughout this pandemic. I am confident I will remain healthy but it is still important to reduce any risk of catching COVID-19 or infecting others,” she said.
Overall, both appreciated the chance to serve their nation in what will hopefully be a once in a lifetime experience.
“It was really cool to see the CG (Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, Chief of Engineers) on the news talking about alternate care facilities and everything USACE was doing and knowing we’d helped process and consolidate that data in some cases only hours before,” stated Sexton.
Both Valles and Sexton were awarded medals for their service in New York.