Tuesday, July 30, 2013
Lt. Col. John Litz is already acquainted with Lowcountry flooding, Southern hospitality and the Mount Pleasant scene.
The new commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Charleston District is well versed in engineering and working with civilians and military service personnel. And, after eight hours with the district’s regulatory queen, Tina Hadden, Litz is up to speed with the district’s regulatory responsibilities.
On paper, he has it all figured out. In his office, though, it’s unfamiliar territory.
“It’s the first time I ever put anything up (on the walls),” Litz said, looking around at the room that’s been his for only a couple weeks. “It’s not really anything I like to do or think about. I’ve been told from a wise friend of mine who gives me advice from time to time: it’s not about you. It just lets folks know who you are. People come in your office, and they can look around and tell something about you. It kinda humanizes yourself, rather than having sterile walls.”
In the past – a decorated one with dozens of medals and coins – Litz chose sterile over style. But, he admitted he’s never had the luxury of a large glass-top table, a flat-screen television, a whiteboard and a few other decorative perks that are permanent fixtures in the room.
“This was a shock,” he said, laughing. “I have an open-door policy. If folks want to come in, we’ll sit around the table or in the chairs. This is like a mini-conference room for everybody. My style isn’t to hang out in the office by myself.”
But, Litz hasn’t had much time in his office. In his first two weeks as district commander, he met with division chiefs for introductory briefings, shook hands with key stakeholders and was onhand in Hilton Head when South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley referred to the Charleston District as “phenonemal to work with.”
He called the two weeks “fast and furious.” Like any military leader, Litz has been forced to move around the country. Charleston is move No. 8 for his family. He has two daughters: Audrey, who will attend Wando High School as a junior, and Lauren, who will attend Cario Middle School as an eighth grader.
“You move all the time in the military,” Litz said. “This office when Col. Chamberlayne took all his stuff off the wall, it looked like a great, big industrial-looking cave. So, my wife (Becky) came in and helped me throw some stuff up.”
District commanders serve a two-year term before moving on to their next assignment. The board that meets to decide who will become Charleston’s next commander will meet in September or October before making the official announcement the following spring. “Fast and furious” is right.
Litz said he requested to command the Charleston district, ranking it No. 1 among his preferences with Nashville as his second choice. He was chosen among more than a hundred candidates.
“I was fully prepared to not get selected at all,” he said. “There are a lot of good, qualified guys. A lot of my friends that I personally consider just as qualified or better than me. For whatever reason, they picked me. It’s a humbling experience.”
Litz was nearing the end of a year-long deployment in Afghanistan when he was told the news. “My boss came in and told me, ‘Hey, congratulations, you got selected for Charleston.’ I thought he was kidding, because we joked around quite a bit,” Litz said.
“I can’t remember what I was doing – I think I had just came off a couple days of not sleeping (and) traveling. It took a couple more people confirming it before I believed it, and I was able to check the results for myself.”
It’s the second time he’s worked with the Corps of Engineers. He previously served as a captain in 2004-07. “I got to see a lot of the Corps and that really got me excited,” he said. “I determined then if I could ever get back to the Corps, I would.”
Litz’s top priority becomes the Charleston Harbor Post 45 Deepening Feasibility Study. It is among President Barack Obama’s priorities. But, before he can help the district’s customers, Litz is making sure he takes care of the district itself.
“For me personally, it’s to create the environment and provide the resources which allow this district to thrive,” he said of his top goal. “That rests on my shoulders.”
He called the Charleston District “very efficient” and “adaptable,” citing several division chiefs’ longevity. “There’s a large sense of duty here. Bing in charge of a very lean, agile organization is going to be a great experience,” Litz said.
“I can already tell that this district is tracking for success.”