Butler High School Graduate Named to Lead US Army Corps of Engineers 

By Steve Sears

56-year-old, 1982 Butler High School graduate, Lieutenant General Scott Spellmon, assumed command as the Chief of the Army Corps of Engineers on September 10, 2020.

The event was held at  Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall in Arlington, Virginia.

“My assignment as 55th Chief of Engineers and commander of USACE is an amazing opportunity to lead, grow and give back,” says the Lt. Gen. “I’ve worked with some great leaders over the years and I now have an opportunity to take those lessons I’ve learned to encourage strong leadership among both Soldiers and Civilians and set the course that will take Army Engineers and USACE into the future.”

Lt. Gen. Spellmon graduated from the United States Military Academy (USMA) at West Point in 1986. “West Point was actually the nation’s first engineering school and the founding superintendent, Jonathan Williams, also became the Chief Engineer of the Corps,” he says. His father and many of his uncles served in either World War II or the Korean War, and each returned home to New Jersey to build their careers and families.  “While none of them served an entire career in the military, I learned from each of them the value and importance of service to our nation,” he says.

He fondly recalls his youth in Butler. “Overall, my early years prepared me well for a career in the military. Bloomingdale was a great small town to grow up in. It’s a strong community, has a very good school system; and I had excellent examples everywhere around me on the importance of hard work, perseverance and overcoming challenges. Sports, in particular, were (and remain) extremely competitive in north New Jersey and I was blessed with great football, basketball and track & field coaches.  I learned so much from all of them, but particularly the value of sportsmanship and winning.  And, while it took a little while longer, I also learned from them the value of winning in the classroom and academics.”      

Lt. Gen. Spellmon calls himself a “history buff” who loves to read.  “When I think I am having a challenging or difficult day, I often think back upon the books I have read about President (Abraham) Lincoln, or General (later President, Ulysses S.) Grant and the extreme challenges they each faced in holding our nation together in the late 1800s. I also spend a lot of time marveling about the incredible infrastructure our grandfathers and great-grandfathers built around this country – without the computer and automation tools we enjoy now.  I have the privilege in my current role to see this infrastructure every day.”

Lt. Gen. Spellmon has a campaign with four goals. He lists them here:

  1. Support National Readiness. The Army is modernizing, and our Engineer Force needs to keep pace with new requirements and priorities. The most important thing we can do in the US Army Corps of Engineers to support the Army’s and nation’s readiness is deliver our program…in other words, finishing quality projects on time within budget.
  2. Modernize USACE. Data Governance, cyber security, and our internal software that we use day to day must be up to date and provide safe and secure execution of our work.  We’ve made significant strides in the recent past but there is still more to do.
  3. Improve partnering and strengthen partnerships. We live in an age of limited resources and we have a number of federal and non-federal partners who work with us on projects that support mutual goals, often times this is where funding requirements have increased and we are able to pool resources. In other cases, we work with partners like the Nature Conservancy in our Engineering with Nature (EWN) effort. The Nature Conservancy provides grass roots advocacy for our efforts to promote civil construction with water resources that also provide an environmental benefit.  There are many opportunities with partnerships and we’re on the lookout for ways to get better at it.
  4. Revolutionize the way we do things. This is an effort that started a few years ago and we’ve made a lot of improvements. We are a 245-year-old institution and most of our missions are tied to legislation, regulation, and internal processes, many of which were written ten or more years ago. Policies and processes need review every few years to ensure we’re being efficient. Fast food is a great example. McDonalds and Burger King didn’t deliver food ten years ago. Today, I can use Grubhub or Uber Eats to order dinner and use that extra time to do something else. Leveraging technology is only part of it though. Organizationally, we need to reduce bureaucracy and empower leaders at the lowest level to get things done without waiting for someone else to make a decision.  That may sound obvious but in a large organization, things can get complicated fast. So, we are working to correct course.  This is paying huge dividends for us.

The Lt. Gen. has been happily married to his wife for over 34 years, and they have been blessed with three wonderful children.  “My oldest son recently completed his doctorate in biochemistry and is now conducting research for the University of Virginia.  Our second son is a chemical engineer now working in Austin, Texas.  Our daughter (and our youngest) took a different path – she is an opera singer (Soprano II) who just completed her Masters’ degree in vocal performance and is now teaching music and performing.”

He then speaks to his new assignment. “It’s the honor of a lifetime to serve as the Commanding General of the US Army Corps of Engineers. I also serve as the Chief of Engineers on the Army Staff and the Chief of the Engineer Branch for the Army. Nobody gets to this kind of assignment by themselves. Great mentors, friends and comrades have all helped along the way, and there are too many to mention here. As soldiers, we don’t usually get to choose our assignments: we go where the Army needs us. I’ve been fortunate to have a good mix of leader and staff assignments — as well as deployments, that have prepared me to lead the Army engineering effort. That said, it’s not so much the assignments you are given, it’s what you bring to the table every day. I have enjoyed the opportunity to lead and serve as an Engineer across the United States Government and during my deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.”

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