If Lt. Gen. Robert L. Van Antwerp Jr. wins Senate approval to be the next chief of the Army Corps of Engineers, he will have daunting tasks ahead. In the U.S., the Corps is in the midst of a massive rebuilding of hurricane-damaged levees around New Orleans; overseas, it continues to reconstruct war-ravaged Iraqi infrastructure as violence persists.

Van Antwerp

“We are facing lots of challenges,” says John Paul Woodley Jr., assistant secretary of the Army for civil works. “I have no doubt that ‘General Van’ will enjoy that immensely because I think he’s the kind of person who’s not really happy if he’s not really being challenged.”

Van Antwerp, whose nomination as chief was announced Feb. 2, has led since 2004 the Army Accessions Command, where he is in charge of new personnel from first contact with recruits through initial training. He told ENR that he feels “honored and blessed” to be a selected for Corps commander. “When you are an engineer, there is nothing much better than being chief. Plus, I love the people in the Corps.” He says the Corps is measuring up to its tasks: “Great organizations meet the challenges.”

Woodley expects overseas work on the battlefield and in reconstruction “would continue to be [Van Antwerp’s] number-one priority.” Domestically, Woodley says Hurricane Katrina has pointed up “all of the flaws in the way that we plan and execute and manage major civil works projects in this country. The Corps is responding to that in a very aggressive way,” even beyond the work on the ground in Louisiana. 

Van Antwerp’s past posts include commanding the Corps’ South Atlantic Division and leading its Los Angeles district during the 1994 Northridge Earthquake. Woodley says Van Antwerp became  known in the Pentagon when he was assistant chief of staff for installation management. In that job, he helped improve military housing and worked on plans for the 2005 round of base closures, Woodley says.

Van Antwerp would succeed Lt. Gen. Carl A. Strock, who said last August he would step down, citing personal reasons. That was about midway through his four-year term as chief. “I hate to see General Strock go,” says John Doyle, Waterways Council Inc. vice president. “I think he’s been phenomenal in handling the responsibilities and challenges that he’s had to deal with. But I have every confidence that Van Antwerp will carry on.”

Shortly after Strock said he would leave, he issued “12 Actions for Change,” a plan the Corps says aims to revamp priorities, processes and planning. “I like the action steps as I have read them,” Van Antwerp says. “I’ve been out of the Corps a while, though. I am not going to change something that isn’t broken, but I will work to make it better.”