NASHVILLE, Tenn. (March 31, 2017) – The Nashville District celebrated the illustrious career of its top civilian leader today during a retirement ceremony at the Estes Kefauver Federal Building in Nashville, Tenn.
Mike Wilson, who joined the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as a student coop in 1975 and rose up to become the deputy district engineer for Project Management in 2005, culminated nearly 42 years of federal service and received the U.S. Army Superior Civilian Service Medal recognizing his lengthy accomplishments, legacy of leadership and expertise that benefited the nation.
Lt. Col. Stephen Murphy, Nashville District commander, lauded Wilson’s counsel in serving seven district engineers over the past 12 years, and praised him for his role in guiding the district through crises and managing several of the more notable infrastructure projects in the country.
“A district in large part assumes the personality of its DPM,” Murphy said. “I would say the Nashville District that we know and love is the Nashville District that Mike helped frame, influence and form.”
As the district’s highest civilian leader, Wilson constantly worked to build trust and excelled at addressing contentious issues and finding solutions. This resulted in meaningful engagements with the public, his peers, superiors, stakeholders, members of Congress and their staffs, and with state and local leaders.
In May 2010, Wilson responded when the Cumberland River Basin experienced historical rainfall and flooding with some areas receiving rainfall amounts exceeding 17 inches over two days leading to record flood stages and significant destruction along the Cumberland River from above Nashville to its confluence with the Ohio River. He engaged community leaders and served as a spokesman in the aftermath of the 1,000-year rain event.
Another of Wilson’s achievements is the $694 million Wolf Creek Foundation Remediation Project completed in 2013. It was a major engineering feat where 1,200 concrete piles were installed deep into the foundation of the dam to form a barrier wall 4,000 feet long and up to 278-feet deep to stop seepage at the dam located in Jamestown, Ky. When the district drew down Lake Cumberland by 40 feet at the project’s onset, he worked to alleviate tensions, spending a lot of time interacting with communities and stakeholders near the dam and citizens downstream who were concerned about their personal safety.
Throughout his tenure as DPM, he has been leading the district’s efforts to execute the Center Hill Dam Seepage Rehabilitation Project, Kentucky Lock Addition Project, Chickamauga Lock Replacement Project and 20-year, $1.2 billion rehabilitation of 28 hydropower units in the Cumberland River Basin. Wilson directed the development of a customer funded hydropower program management plan that will foster reliable hydropower within the region for years to come.
Murphy noted that Wilson’s communication skills, collaborative spirit and willingness to help is what makes Nashville the great district that it is. The commander said when he asked Wilson what his greatest achievement was, he didn’t mention any of his own achievements. Rather, Wilson said it was the people that he had hired, which spoke volumes about his leadership and selfless service.
“It wasn’t projects. It wasn’t systems or processes, all of which he’s improved. Mike’s legacy that will long outlast him are the many employees that he’s hired that are current engineers and leaders, and all of whom make him and the district proud,” Murphy said.
Corey Morgan, Nashville District’s Structural Section chief, is an employee that Wilson hired 15 years ago that now sits in the office that Wilson once occupied.
Morgan said he hires people himself now and knows how important it is to hire someone that is going to make a difference in the organization.
“When I interview folks now I point out the positives of the Nashville District and the great work we have, the great people,” Morgan said. “But most importantly I tell them I would never want to work anywhere else.”
Wilson also made a point over the years to develop effective relationships with his counterparts at other federal agencies such as the Tennessee Valley Authority and Department of Energy. He often met with local, state and Congressional stakeholders to update them about current projects, and the seven commanders he served under relied on his corporate knowledge, expertise and counsel.
“He really has assumed the role as a friend and advisor and in a lot of cases as a mentor,” Murphy said. “I would argue that there is no senior leader in the district that knows the Nashville District as holistically as Mike does.”
With more than 100 people in attendance at the retirement ceremony, Wilson said he was overwhelmed and honored by his friends and Corps family, and thankful for the opportunity to pursue a career with the Corps of Engineers when he attended Tennessee Tech University four decades ago.
“I never once wished I had done something else,” Wilson said. “I’ve had a wonderful career.”
Wilson praised his wife Cady, sons Campbell and Michael, and daughter Elise for their love and for supporting him along his professional journey with the Corps of Engineers.
“She has been wonderful throughout all of the stages of my career,” Wilson said about his wife. “She’s a very successful assistant head master of a private school, but yet she’s the glue of the family. She is the one who keeps us going. I know a lot of time my job takes first place, but I can’t thank you more for all you do.”
As DPM, Wilson served seven district engineers, the previous six who were all selected for promotion to colonel. During his career he worked for 20 commanders.
Col. Anthony Mitchell, St. Louis District commander; Col. James DeLapp, Mobile District commander; Col. John L. Hudson, attending National Defense University; retired Col. Bernard Lindstrom; retired Col. Peter Taylor Jr., Mobile deputy district engineer for Project Management; and Jenny Norwood, wife of retired Col. David Norwood; were on hand to pay their respect to Wilson at his retirement. Retired Brig. Gen. Bruce Berwick, former commanding general of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Great lakes and Ohio River Division, also attended.
At a social event later in the day, Berwick recalled his time as commander and how he forged a relationship with the Nashville District and Wilson during challenging times when the district worked to draw down Lake Cumberland and repair the dam’s foundation.
“We were able to balance downstream safety against upstream safety,” Berwick recalled. “Mr. Wilson - It was an honor to have served with you.”
Wilson’s first project as a student coop involved the Bay Springs Lock Project in Dennis, Miss., during the construction of the Tennessee Tombigbee Waterway, a 234-mile man-made waterway. Congress renamed the project the Jamie L. Whitten Lock and Dam June 6, 1997 in honor of the former U.S. representative who greatly supported the construction of the waterway.
Wilson helped calculate the amount of concrete needed for various options being considered at the time to build the lock and designed one of the lock’s monoliths, a fact he’s proud of to this day.
DeLapp did some digging at Whitten Lock with his staff and found the blueprint for the monolith that included Wilson’s initials signed Aug. 12, 1981. The colonel presented Wilson with a framed copy, a historical keepsake befitting of its designer.
“This is your roots, right here,” DeLapp said. “You’ve really been the rock here in the district. It was great to see that. I appreciate everything you did for me personally and for the Nashville District and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.”
Wilson is a native of Nashville and resides in Franklin. He received a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Tennessee Tech University and a masters degree in engineering from Vanderbilt University. He is a registered professional engineer in Tennessee.
He has worked as the chief of the Structural Section, project manager for navigation projects, technical manager for flood control projects, structural engineer, and plan formulator for special projects. He served as chief of the Design Branch from February 2000 to January 2005. He was the 1997 Ohio River Division Project Manager of the Year.
(The public can obtain news, updates and information from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District on the district’s website at www.lrn.usace.army.mil, on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/nashvillecorps, and on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/nashvillecorps.)