Posted on December 4, 2023
Erik Blechinger, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Savannah District, Deputy District Engineer for Planning, Programs and Project Management, received the 2023 Lt. Gen. John W. Morris Civilian of the Year Award during the USACE National Awards Ceremony in Washington D.C., Nov. 29, 2023.
The award is presented each year by the USACE Commander to a civilian employee who has achieved the highest overall standards of excellence, and who has individually made the most significant and noteworthy contributions to the mission, reputation, and prestige of the Corps.
“I think it’s representative of the Corps of Engineers; those who come to work every day and work very hard to build the most important things for our country,” said Blechinger. “There are thousands deserving of this award and to represent those folks is an honor.”
The Savannah District is a diverse district within USACE, overseeing a multi-million dollar construction program at 11 military installations in three states. The District also maintains two deep water ports, operates three major hydropower dams, mission execution of hazardous, toxic, and radioactive waste clean-up at formerly used defense sites, manages real estate activities for the DoD, and recently acquired the Power Stabilization Mission in Puerto Rico.
Blechinger oversaw the execution of several nationally significant projects and missions to include the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project, Brunswick Harbor Modification Project, Pope Army Airfield Runway and Taxiway Replacement, Army barracks challenges, Veterans Affairs Program realignment, Direct and Reimbursable Civil and Military work, and the initiation of the Power Stabilization Mission in Puerto Rico.
“Savannah is a great District,” said Blechinger. “It’s a very competent District that’s called upon regionally and nationally to take on some really tough projects – and that’s 100 percent because of the people.”
Blechinger began his career with the Corps in 1987 after graduating with a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Civil and Environmental Engineering from the University of Wisconsin, and entering the U.S. Army as an engineer officer.
As an active-duty second lieutenant, Blechinger headed off to officer basic at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, followed by his first assignment in the Republic of Korea for one year.
His Army career led him to several various locations including Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. However, Blechinger spent most of his time at Fort Liberty, formally known as Fort Bragg, where he concluded his active duty service in 2001.
“When I decided to leave active duty, the Corps was the only job I applied for,” said Blechinger.
He earned a Master’s of Science degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Kansas while still active duty, and planned to use his education, and experience gained from the military, as a civilian in the Corps.
Blechinger was selected for a position within the Kansas City District directly after active-duty, and continued to serve in the U.S. Army Reserve while employed full time.
He completed a tour supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom from 2004-2005 in a civilian capacity, and upon returning, was selected for the Deputy District Engineer for the Omaha District.
Blechinger completed a second tour in support of OIF from 2007-2008, but this time, through his role as a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve. He retired from the military shortly after in 2010 with 23 years of service.
Just a year later, Blechinger was selected to serve as the special assistant of the USACE Missouri River Basin Programs in the Northwestern Division. He remained in that role until 2014 when he accepted his current position with the Savannah District.
Blechinger attributes his successful career to the leadership he has served with and the challenges his teams have overcome throughout the years.
“When there is something that is a little bit one-off, something you’re unsure of, or something you want to get a second opinion on, there are a hundred people I could call and get advice from,” said Blechinger.
Blechinger is set to retire in June 2024 after 37 years of federal service. The 2023 Lt. Gen. John W. Morris Civilian of the Year Award comes as a milestone that he can hang his hat on in his final year of service. Blechinger said that it’s an honor to be recognized for his most recent contributions to USACE, but it’s the people, who have made this possible.
“That’s the most important part out of all of this,” said Blechinger. “There were huge challenges that we just really knocked out of the park, and you form great relationships when you go through really tough projects like that.”