Bridging the gap: Warrant officers bring unique skills to mega projects

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Kansas City District
Published Jan. 6, 2023
An ariel view of a large building with trees in the background.

An ariel view of the Fort Leonard Wood Hospital Replacement Project at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri on Oct. 4, 2022. | Photo by Reagan Zimmerman, Kansas City District Public Affairs

Chief Warrant Officer 2 Adam Isdale stands at his desk and reviews content in a U.S. Army uniform.

Chief Warrant Officer 2 Adam Isdale reviews daily quality control, quality assurance inspections and testing coordination schedules for the new Fort Leonard Wood Hospital at the Missouri Resident Office on Jan. 4, 2023.

An ariel view of a large building with a city skyline in the background.

An ariel view of the Next National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) West Project in St. Louis.

Chief Warrant Officer 2 Derik Liebenstein stands in front of a U.S. Army building in a U.S. Army uniform.

Chief Warrant Officer 2 Derik Liebenstein stands in front of the Combined Joint Task Force, Operation Inherent Resolve seal during a deployment to Kuwait.

In the U.S. Army, warrant officers provide a unique and specialized role to a unit. Warrant officers are the few subject matter experts within their respective fields, with the ability to solve technical problems, provide advice to commanders, and lead troops all while supporting the larger mission. Their numbers are few, making up less than three percent of the force, but their role within an Army unit is invaluable.

It might seem like a no-brainer then, to have a skilled warrant officer assigned to a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers construction project, but you’d be hard-pressed to find many within USACE. Knowing there are so few of these uniformed technical experts within USACE, it may be surprising to learn that the Kansas City District has not one, but two warrant officers assigned to two of its district mega projects. 

“Having a warrant officer at a field office at USACE is very unique,” said Maj. Steve Lanni, Missouri Area Office deputy area engineer with the Kansas City District.

Leadership recognized the value these military construction experts can provide to a USACE mega project. That’s why they decided to bring a warrant officer to both the Fort Leonard Wood Hospital Replacement Project and the Next National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency West Project in St. Louis.  

“This is a chance for USACE to see the expertise of the warrant officers because they’re not historically in USACE, then for the warrant officers to take the experience back to the regular Army when they leave this assignment,” said Lanni.

Scale and scope

As the name suggests, mega projects are the biggest projects and have eight typical attributes which set them apart from other USACE projects and missions. Most significant is the cost and duration; a mega project is typically valued at more than $200 million and takes more than two years to complete. Other significant attributes of a mega project are its uniqueness, national significance, and coordination of multiple prime contractors, design agents and stakeholders. 

While various USACE districts across the nation have Mega Projects as part of their mission set, they are unique construction projects, simply because of their scale.

“We are currently building a new hospital for Fort Leonard Wood. It’s definitely the biggest construction project that I have worked on,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Adam Isdale, Fort Leonard Wood Hospital Replacement Project engineer.

Isdale has over 18 years of military construction experience, to include extensive experience with vertical construction.

“On any given day there’s a lot of work being done and it’s awesome to be part of the team,” said Isdale.

Specialized skills

The scale and scope of a mega project is part of what sets it apart from a typical USACE project, but they also often require specialized experience that can sometimes be difficult to come across. Enter the warrant officer.

The Next NGA West Project is a perfect example of a mega project requiring a niche set of skills that aren’t always easy to come by. The sensitive nature of the project requires knowledge of Secret Compartmented Information Facility construction, which happens to be a specialty of Chief Warrant Officer 2 Derik Liebenstein, Next NGA West Project engineer.

“I was brought into this project due to my training and knowledge of SCIF construction. I spear head construction techniques that will keep the building secretive and allow classified material to be processed,” said Liebenstein.

While Liebenstein is part of a larger team of subject matter experts working on the Next NGA West Project, his 17 plus years of military construction experience helps to bridge the gap that can sometimes exist between civilian contractors, USACE and the Army. The warrant officer’s ability to simultaneously be the technical expert, leader and advisor to the commander in a traditional Army unit are skills that easily translate on site at a USACE mega project.

“[Warrant officers] provide that technical expertise back to the commander. They understand the construction, they understand plans, what they’re looking at, and can apply those skills to the job,” said Lanni.

What is the future of the warrant officer in USACE?

Having a warrant officer assigned to any USACE project is rare. Having two warrant officers assigned to two separate mega projects within the same district is even more rare. Yet the decision by the leadership of the Kansas City District to bring Chief Warrant Officer 2 Isdale and Liebenstein to the district was strategic.

Not only are the warrant officers bringing a technical skill set beneficial to the USACE mega projects, they are also taking knowledge and skills that they are learning on the job back to the Army.

“USACE has provided me endless on-the-job training, challenging engineering problem solving skills and a network of civilian engineers and leaders that are at the top of their career fields,” said Liebenstein.

It is unknown if the Kansas City District, or USACE as a whole, will continue to use warrant officers at its mega projects. Whether or not there is a future for the warrant officer at USACE, it’s clear that the experiences gained working on the mega projects at the Kansas City District will have long lasting benefits.

“I definitely see the benefit to USACE and my career and the Army, getting us in here for a project of this magnitude,” said Isdale. “One of the coolest things you don’t get to do as tactical soldiers is partnering and working with people in diverse career fields … constant sharing and collaborating and working together to solve complex problems.”

USACE, the Army and civilian partners working together to solve the nation’s most challenging engineering problems is very cool, indeed.