Maj. Gen. Robert D. Carlson, the commanding general of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Transatlantic Division, was promoted in a ceremony at the Pentagon May 15.
Lt. Gen. Thomas P. Bostick, the USACE commanding general and 53rd chief of engineers, promoted Carlson. This was the second time he promoted Carlson; the first time was to brigadier general. Bostick noted that Carlson is a great leader, coach and mentor.
“He is a very technically competent and professional leader,” Bostick said. “He is a caring, dedicated and involved commander who gets to know his personnel. He is the epitome of what reserve Soldiers strive to be…twice the citizen.”
Carlson said his leadership philosophy is based on three main principles: the leader needs to be the standard bearer for the organization, needs to be a mentor, and needs to be the facilitator to the organization.
“As the leader, you are the person up front setting the example by your actions, your deeds and what you say,” he said. “To me that is the key to being the standard bearer. You are able to get up in front of others and lead by example.”
According to Carlson, being a mentor is multifaceted. The audience determines the type of mentorship he provides. When the person being mentored is more junior, he will take more of a hands-on role, teaching and passing on knowledge. A more senior person won’t require the same kind of teaching, and his role as a mentor is more coaching and supporting.
And finally, as a facilitator for the organization, Carlson believes he needs to be able to remove obstacles to help people accomplish their jobs.
“For obstacles that are too big for the individual to solve at their level or at the next level up the chain, that’s when a senior leader needs to get involved and move them forward on a successful path,” he said.
With a strong family tradition of serving in the military, Carlson grew up expecting to follow that example. His father was career military who retired as a lieutenant colonel in the Army after serving in the Korean War and twice in the Vietnam War. His grandfather served in the Navy and fought in WWII.
“I would say our family has a tradition of serving in the military,” he said. “Though I didn’t think it would be a career, I knew I was going to spend some time in the military when I was accepted to West Point.”
Though he came off active duty in the late 1980s, he estimates that in the 14 years since 9/11 he’s been on active duty for at least half of that time, either deployed, in schools or mobilized in the U.S.
As commanding general, Carlson is responsible for the division’s USACE services throughout the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) area of responsibility, with projects in 18 of the 20 CENTCOM nations, spanning from Egypt to the Arabian Gulf and Central Asia. The division currently oversees programs exceeding $4 billion annually through district offices located in Afghanistan and Winchester, VA.
Carlson serves not only as the Transatlantic Division’s commanding general, but also as USACE’s deputy commanding general for reserve affairs in Washington, D.C. While it’s not typical to serve concurrently in the two high-level positions, he credits the staff at USACE headquarters with helping to ensure his success.
In his civilian capacity, when not on active duty, Carlson serves as a branch chief at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. He has a wife and three children, and said he works to balance family and work life.
“It’s tough,” he said. “I’ve been away these last few years as much as I’ve been with them. But my family is very supportive and I try to be there for all the big events. And of course they’re here for mine, including the promotion ceremony.”