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Posted 6/3/2014

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By Erica Skolte

One man grew up in a small town in Virginia and the other was raised near New York City. Despite the differences in their backgrounds, they became men of remarkably similar character. Each embodies the all-encompassing Army value of honor. Many say they live all of the Army values – loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage every day.

When people talk about Jacksonville District employees Mark Claudio and Michael Rogalski, many of the same words are repeatedly used. Trustworthiness and honesty are at the foundation of any good relationship, and they are often the first words used to describe Claudio and Rogalski.

When asked to speak about themselves, both come across as grateful and humble.

Mark Claudio grew up in the small rural town of Lee Hall, Virginia, just outside of Fort Eustis.

During his middle and high school years, he and his buddies spent a lot of time fishing at Fort Eustis, which was an open base at the time. It was there that he saw Army divers loading dive equipment into a van. “When I saw them that day, I knew that’s what I wanted to do when I joined the Army,” he said.

A year after high school, Claudio joined the Army and served about three years at Fort Hood, Texas. He did a tour in Kuwait and spent four months on a training mission under difficult desert conditions. Following that deployment, Claudio finally got to trade in talcum powder fine sand for the opportunity he had longed for since his high school days.

Though it took years of effort and persistence to find out about the program and survive the training, Claudio overcame many obstacles to make his dream of becoming an Army diver come true.

Claudio passed a rigorous two-week pre-qualification course conducted at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. “There are tests throughout, and you’ve got to prove that you really want to be there. Due to the inherent dangers in diving, there is no room for cowardice. The people who make it through have heart.”

Claudio graduated successfully from the Navy Diving and Salvage Training Center. “In dive school, they demand a high level of maturity and courage,” he said. “You must demonstrate the ability to deal with adverse conditions and meet a certain level of mental and physical ability.”

Claudio joined the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 2000 as a 21D engineer diver. Coming full circle, he ended up serving at Fort Eustis, where his journey to become a diver had begun.

Army engineer divers, who are known as “Army divers” in the field, are trained in underwater construction, salvage, demolitions, hydrographic survey, hyperbaric chamber operation, beach and river reconnaissance, bridge reconnaissance, underwater cutting and welding, side scan sonar operations, mine and countermine operations, search and recovery operations and ship’s husbandry operations. Army divers use both surface supplied "hard hat" and scuba to perform their missions.

“Every single job we did was in the high risk category. There is a chance of death every time you go in the water,” said Claudio. “You’ve got to have a high level of experience and professionalism. You work together and live together with your colleagues as a team. It is a privilege to be an Army diver.”

In addition, Claudio attended the Non-commissioned Officers Academy at Fort Knox, Kentucky, one of the primary leadership development courses, and was promoted to sergeant. Claudio loves the challenges of diving and was presented with many other opportunities, but the birth of his son changed his priorities. He decided to look for a position where he could spend more time with his family.

In 2007, Claudio took a position as a lock and dam helper at the Ortona Lock and Dam, and was promoted to a lock and dam operator.

Chester “Wayne” Sullivan, civil technician in the South Florida Operations Office in Clewiston, welcomed Claudio to the Jacksonville District. I was working at Ortona Lock and Mark was sent there to train with me,” said Sullivan. “He was always very dedicated to his work and eager to learn the best and safest way to get the job done.”

“Mr. Claudio is a good man who lives the Army values. He’s honest and always right there to help. Once you get to know him, you’d trust your life with him if you had to,” said Jack Pasch, supervisory facilities manager, who worked with Claudio at Ortona Lock. “He always jumps on anything that needs to be done, without having to be asked. He’s very conscientious and always professional.”

Claudio transferred to the St. Lucie Lock and Dam in 2009. “I have an outstanding crew and we spend a lot of time with each other. I call them all my own family,” said Michael Carter, St. Lucie lock and dam leader. “We are fortunate to have Mark with us. He’s always there ready to assist, and he’s an asset to the Corps. He’s also part of the district’s “Developmental Assignments Program.”

“Working as a lock operator has allowed me to be home and give my kids stability. It’s rewarding, and the guys I work with are amazing. They are good people and I enjoy working with them,” said Claudio.

“I believe that on the most fundamental levels it is incredibly important to respect those you work with and to be loyal to your teammates. I'm speaking from my experiences of having served on an Army dive team and at the St. Lucie Lock with these stand-up guys I work with today,” said Claudio. “When you strive to act with honor and integrity, your teammates will see that, and mutual respect will flow both ways. The success of any job, any project, anywhere you go, is going to boil down to the effectiveness of your team.”

Claudio constantly strives to improve himself. He has been taking business courses with a focus on project management, and courses such as the Contracting Officers Representative (COR) through the Defense Acquisition University.

“Mark Claudio is a diligent worker who has been taking the opportunity to improve his professional skills through outside educational studies in business. He has been looking for opportunities within the Corps to advance and utilize his new talents,” said Carl Williams, Claudio’s supervisor in facilities management. “Mark works very well with the public, which can be difficult at times. Mark always maintains his composure and professionalism.”

“Mark is straightforward and honest. He is a really trustworthy and solid employee to work with,” said Steven Dunham, chief of the South Florida Operations Office in Clewiston. “He has performed every task assigned exceptionally well. In recognizing his honorable service, it is best to say he exemplifies and demonstrates the Army values collectively and is an excellent candidate for higher positions and responsibilities.”

“Mark is a true professional who serves our nation with great honor, not only in his prior career with the Army but as a lock and dam operator. Our lock operators are our true heroes and the face of the Corps,” said Jim Jeffords, chief, Operations Division. “Mark is the type of employee who serves with great pride and can be counted on in any situation.”

Though his life took a very different path than Mark Claudio’s, Michael Rogalski also embodies the Army value of honor.

Rogalski grew up near New York City, where he remembers seeing big buildings, highways and bridges. “I love seeing things built, I guess,” he said.

Rogalski started out with the Corps in 1994 as a co-op student and in the intern program in New York City. He then worked as a construction manager and a project manager, doing mostly construction and design work for military construction, beach restoration and flood control projects.

Rogalski joined Jacksonville District as a project manager on the Indian River Lagoon-South Project, one of the initial projects in the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP), in 2002.

“At the time, a lot of the work was new territory. It was different than what I had done before. The project started out as a Feasibility Study, and as we developed the Project Implementation Report (PIR), there was a lot more planning and policy work, including the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requirements.”

Rogalski was promoted to chief of the Herbert Hoover Dike Branch in 2008, and since 2011, has served as the deputy chief of the Programs and Project Management Division.

“Don’t be afraid to take on greater challenges,” said Rogalski. “Continue to challenge yourself to do more.”

Corps employees who work with Rogalski say he is always interested in doing the right thing, he can always be trusted and will always be honest. He doesn’t play games and is straightforward.

He makes people feel that they are important enough to deserve his attention. Anyone who sends an e-mail to Rogalski always receives a reply, even if it’s just a courteous “thank you” in acknowledgement. There is never a feeling that an email has disappeared into a “black hole,” never to be seen nor heard from again.

“I may not always have an answer, but I always try my best to take a little bit of time to be responsive, especially when someone needs help,” said Rogalski.

Rogalski genuinely cares about restoring the environment we live and play in, and cares about the ultimate missions of the Corps. For him, it’s much more than just meeting a schedule and executing the project.

“Never take anything for granted. Be happy and thankful for everything,” Rogalski advises, “Be honest, respectful and responsible to everyone you work with, and with everyone you come into contact with in general.

“We’re here to serve the citizens of Florida and carry out what Congress authorizes us to do,” said Rogalski. “The best part of it is the problem-solving, with the overall goal of implementing what Congress and the president want us to do.”

“Of all the people I know, Mike’s got the integrity and the drive. What is impressive is his ability to deal with and resolve tough situations,” said Timothy Willadsen, project manager for the Herbert Hoover Dike Rehabilitation Project. “He has a lot on his plate, and he never stops, day after day. He’s about as dedicated a person as you will ever meet.”

“Mike Rogalski is well respected by his colleagues, family and friends because of his integrity, dedication, knowledge and determination. He treats everyone with respect, kindness and understanding. Mike is a true leader and mentor, and committed to implementing progress throughout the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers,” said Karen Smith, chief, Program Management Branch. “Mike exemplifies all the Army values and Jacksonville District is very fortunate to have such an outstanding employee.”

"Honor is not a destination and not a trait that all men have. However, Mr. Rogalski arrived there long ago and lives with honor every day, and I am honored to have him as my deputy," said David Hobbie, deputy district engineer for Programs and Project Management.

army values honor Jacksonville District U.S. Army Corps of Engineers