Now that Lt. Gen. Robert L. Van Antwerp Jr. has taken over as the new head of the leader of the Army Corps of Engineers, he will have his hands full with challenges in the Corps' civil works and military construction programs.
"Everybody thinks he's going to be good for the Corps," says National Waterways Conference President Worth Hager. She says she is waiting to see "what his priorities are going to be [and] the tone he's going to set for the Corps."
After his confirmation was stalled for weeks in the Senate, Van Antwerp assumed his post as the Army's 52nd Chief of Engineers and Corps commander on May 18, the day after the Senate approved him for the position. On the Corps' civil works side, the continued strengthening of New Orleans-area flood control structures after 2005's Hurricane Katrina undoubtedly will be high on Van Antwerp's agenda. Louisiana senators Mary Landrieu (D) and David Vitter (R) made sure the general understood how important rebuilding south Louisiana levees and other projects are. They had placed "holds" on Van Antwerp's nomination for more than a month, until he visited the region, answered questions about Corps issues and met other criteria they had set.
Besides grappling with Louisiana projects, Van Antwerp also must "deal with an enormous backlog of promised projects in the context of increasing operations and maintenance and rehabilitation needs across the nation," says David R. Conrad, senior water resources specialist with the National Wildlife Federation. Conrad says another issue he faces "may be to improve the coordination and focus of a far-flung agency that continues to carry not only a domestic role but also...a war role at the same time."
The Corps' military role includes support for the troops and helping with the remaining reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan. At home, it also includes overseeing much of the hundreds of millions of dollars worth of construction expected to flow from the latest round of base realignments and closures, which was launched in 2005.
Van Antwerp has experience with the Corps, commanding its Los Angeles District during the 1994 Northridge earthquake and its South Atlantic Division after that. More recently, as the Army's assistant chief of staff for installation management, he worked on plans for the 2005 base closure round. But he has been away from day-to-day Corps and facilities activity for a while. For the past three years he led the Army Accessions Command, where he was responsible for new recruits through their initial training.
Van Antwerp replaces Lt. Gen Carl A. Strock, who was Corps commander since July 2004. Strock retired after 36 years as an Army officer, and formally relinquished command at a May 17 ceremony at Fort Myer, Va. Strock had announced last August that he would be stepping down before the end of a chief's usual four-year term, citing personal reasons.