Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Torch passed at Corps of Engineers’ St. Louis District

The change of command is a time-honored tradition and ceremony, tracing its origins to Roman times.  In it, the organization acknowledges the passing of authorities and responsibilities of leadership from one commander to another, while ensuring the continuity of leadership and unit identity.

On Friday, July 8, 2011, Col. Thomas E. O’Hara, Jr. relinquished his position as commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ St. Louis District to Col. Christopher G. Hall during a Change of Command ceremony at the Sheraton hotel, in Downtown St. Louis. This event also marked O’Hara’s retirement from the U.S. Army.

“As the mantle of leadership is passed, we recognize the many accomplishments that the District has achieved under Colonel O’Hara’s leadership,” Maj. Gen. Michael Walsh, Commander of the Mississippi Valley Division said.  “It also allows us to welcome the new commander and his family.”

In the portion of the ceremony where the command is officially shifted from O’Hara to his successor, Joe Kellett, the senior civilian advisor and Deputy for Programs and Project Management, representative of the District’s hundreds of civilian employees, handed off the Corps of Engineers flag to O’Hara.

O’Hara then passed the flag to Walsh, symbolizing O’Hara relinquishing leadership of the District to his senior officer.  Walsh, in turn, entrusted the colors with the incoming commander, Hall, symbolizing his assumption of the District’s senior leadership position, with all its duties and responsibilities.  Finally, the flag is returned to Kellett for his safe keeping during Hall’s command.

After assuming command, Hall expressed his gratitude to O’Hara for his dedication and superior work that he has done with the District.

 “It’s an honor to serve as the 50th commander of the St. Louis District, and I look forward to working with you, our partners and our stakeholders,” Hall said.  "Colonel O'Hara has put together a strong team and we'll build on that team."

Hall comes to his new assignment from the U.S. Army War College at Carlisle Barracks in Carlisle, Pa.  He previously served as Deputy District Engineer for the Buffalo District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. His most recent assignment was in Norfolk, Va., where he served in the U.S. Joint Forces Command and deployed to Haiti as the deputy Joint Task Force Haiti engineer.  Hall also commanded the 4th Special Troops Battalion of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division and deployed with them in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

“With the obvious talent and variety of experience he brings to this command, I have every confidence that Hall is well suited for the challenges ahead,” Walsh said.

During his tenure, O’Hara led the District through two consecutive record program years, where the District was able to take on a variety of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act projects, which helped put local contractors to work and invest in projects that provide lasting benefit to the nation.

Some of these projects included the major rehabilitation of Lock and Dam 27, new visitor centers and administrative buildings at three of the District’s lakes, and investments in flood risk reduction systems of the St. Louis and Cape Girardeau floodwalls, Wood River Levee, and the Monarch/Chesterfield Levee, to name a few.

Under O’Hara’s leadership, the District had a considerable part in one of the biggest missions in the history of the Corps of Engineers, the Hurricane and Strom Damage Risk Reduction System. More than 230 employees, nearly a third of the District have deployed to New Orleans and the surrounding area since 2005.

Col. O’Hara has also led a district that supports the nation at war. The St. Louis District has deployed 75 volunteer employees to support Overseas Contingency Operations.

Walsh awarded the Legion of Merit award to O’Hara for his exceptionally distinguished service to the U.S. Army from May 1985 to July 2011 serving in a vast range of leadership and key staff positions, culminating with his assignment as Commander of the St Louis District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. 

O’Hara was also awarded the De Fleury Medal, which is used to honor those individuals who have provided significant contributions to Army Engineering.

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