The process for picking a successor to Army Corps of Engineers Chief, Lt. Gen. Robert B. Flowers, is "well advanced," says John Paul Woodley, Jr., assistant secretary of the Army for civil works. Woodley says Flowers would like to have a departure ceremony in July, and the assistant secretary adds that he will be advocating that ceremony be "a direct handoff" to a new chief, so there is no interim period before a commander is installed. Flowers, who became Chief of Engineers in October 2000, is expected to retire this year. The chief's term is typically four years.

Asked whether a recommended choice for the next chief has been forwarded up the chain of command at the Pentagon, Woodley said, "It's well under way." There has been no announcement from the White House, Army or the Corps.


Sources say four Army major generals, all with experience in senior Corps posts, are believed to be in the running: Robert Griffin, the Corps' deputy chief; David F. Melcher, now head of the Army's program analysis and evaluation directorate; Carl A. Strock, director of civil works; and Robert L. Van Antwerp, commander of the Army Engineer School at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri.

Before his Pentagon posting, Melcher had been in charge of the Corps' Southwestern Division, based in Dallas. Van Antwerp had been commander of the South Atlantic Division, based in Atlanta.

Two sources say they have heard the selection has been narrowed to Melcher and Strock and that the recommendation has been sent from the Defense Dept. to the White House. One source says, "At one point the three names that I was hearing [were] Van Antwerp, Melcher and Strock, but lately it's just been Melcher and Strock." But the source cautions against banking on those names, saying,"You never know."

Woodley made his comments after a March 10 House energy and water appropriations subcommittee hearing on the Corps' 2005 budget proposal. During the hearing, Chairman David Hobson (R-Ohio) complimented Flowers, noting that it was the general's last appearance before the panel as chief. Hobson then referred to Strock, who was sitting at the same witness table with Woodley, Flowers and other Corps officials, indicating Strock would be taking the chief's spot at next year's budget hearing.

After the hearing, Hobson told ENR that he hadn't been notified that Strock had been selected, but just assumed he would be the choice, because he was a two-star Army general sitting at the table with Flowers, who wears three stars.

One source says the choice of the new chief will lead to other changes in top Corps positions: "This would be just one piece of a great big daisy chain of moves that would be happening [and] would probably be decided at about the same time."