WINCHESTER, Va. -- With only a handful of uniformed personnel working side by side with civilians, the work environment at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Middle East District, is quite different from what Soldiers would encounter at their average duty station.
Though Soldiers come to work in uniform each day, they are working in a corporate environment, with fewer than 10 active-duty peers surrounded by coworkers in business clothing.
Master Sgt. Georgette Morton, the Middle East District’s noncommissioned officer in charge, said it takes most military personnel a little time to adjust to the new workplace culture.
“Most Soldiers are accustomed to working in a unit of active component military personnel,” she said. “They’re surrounded by huge numbers of other Soldiers both in the workplace and in the local community. Then they come here and are surrounded by Civilians.”
Morton, who has been with the organization for a total of six years, said she has learned to be extremely flexible, because there is a different communication style when working with Civilians.
“For example, if our colonel walks in the room and needs something, we drop everything and do it immediately,” she said. “It might not have the same weight for a Civilian.”
But Morton noted that many of the Civilian employees are veterans and have maintained their Army value of always placing the mission first She said many people, both military and civilians, will work at home after duty hours from laptops or Blackberrys.
“There are no time restrictions on how long Soldiers work,” she said. “The mission dictates when we go home for the day, there’s no packing up and going home if there is still work to be done.”
Staff Sgt. Wing Leung, a contracting specialist, said this is a very different experience from the rest of her military career. After a year in Korea, Leung joined the Middle East District in July 2014.
“You don’t get the moral support of being around other Soldiers,” she said. “And not being near the commissary, PX and gyms can be inconvenient. It really makes you appreciate what you had.”
She noted another big change is being away from military medical centers. She has had to adjust to finding doctors who will accept Tricare, when she would just need to call a central appointment line for medical appointments at a military installation.
Though there are challenges to working away from a military installation there are also positive aspects. Leung said the monthly lunches for military women, hosted by the Federal Women’s Program manager are a good time to get to know people.
“The best part is the people I work with,” she said. “The Civilians I work with are very knowledgeable and I’ve received good training here.”
Morton said though it can be a challenge to coordinate military training and events, “we make it work.” The Soldiers use local high school tracks to take PT tests, and use the local police department’s range for weapons qualifications. They travel nearly 90 minutes to Fort Belvoir for yearly personal health assessments and other necessary events.
Though most of the people working for him aren’t in uniform, Col. Vincent Quarles, commander of the Middle East District said it doesn’t make much difference in his style of leadership.
“To me, leadership means motivating people to accomplish the mission,” he said. “That doesn’t change whether it’s Soldiers or Civilians.”