The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers build bridges and dams and they dredge our harbors and channels. You may not know they also keep Mobile’s shipping channel to the Gulf of Mexico open and deep enough for ocean-going vessels. Mobile District Commanding Officer Colonel Jon Chytka recently shared about its mission and how he was trained for leadership.
“I would think the biggest accomplishment is being good stewards with the American peoples tax dollars, getting the most we possibly can out of what they’ve given us. There are so many accomplishments, I think that’s the one I’m most proud of,” shared Colonel Chytka.
Colonel Jon Chytka is the Commanding Officer of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Mobile District. The District includes Alabama, its four neighboring states and south to Central and South America. Colonel Chytka believes values learned years ago helped him become a leader.
“My dad, he showed me how important it was to work. He was a tough love man. My mom was very nurturing. She’s a nurse and she also had a great work ethic. She would work in my Dad’s grocery store and butcher’s shop and then she would also go to work as a nurse. She was always very supportive of me and my five brothers,” remembered Chytka.
His mother planted the idea to consider the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
“She said maybe you should think about this it’s a military school. I thought I was a little too open minded for the discipline and everything else in the military. I didn’t think I would fit in very well. Mom just kind of told me to just look at it, just think about it. I did some reading. I looked at all the people that had gone into the military and who had been so successful as leaders. I read wonderful stories of people that had gone to West Point. That’s really what kind of sold me, that there’s probably something to the military. It may take your talents and refine them, to make you as good as you can be. That was my reason I decided to go,” said Chytka.
Since 1802, West Point has educated future leaders.
“I chose Aeronautical Engineering at West Point. I decided to go with aerospace because it was as I saw it, one of two hardest that West Point offered. West Point was tough. A military academy and very disciplined, very rigid. They really tried to instill things in you and take your talents and refine them. They put a lot of stress on you because you’re going to have stress when you get out. There’s going to be a lot of decisions you have to make and they’re not easy decisions. I had a wonderful experience, but I would not like to have to go through it again. It was one of those life changing experiences,” shared Chytka.
Success at West Point allowed Chytka to get the assignment he wanted.
“I got lucky. Fort Riley was my number one choice. A lot of history in First Engineers, being the first engineering battalion it had a number of remarkable leaders including Robert E. Lee. It’s the oldest most decorated unit in the United States Army. That’s what the Army is about being the decisive force on the battlefield,” stated Colonel Chytka.
After Fort Riley in Kansas, Chytka served two tours in paradise.
“I would say providence again, honestly I was very surprised that I got selected for the Honolulu District. Someone has to do those tough yards you know, I loved it. It was high on my list. Any job that you have in the military can be a tough assignment. Location always can ease that a little bit. It was a tough assignment in certain ways, in other ways it was a great assignment. Honolulu District is the USACE District that takes care of the Hawaiian Islands, Guam, American Samoa, and supports other districts in the area,” said Chytka.
U.S. military engagements in Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan involved the Corps of Engineers and Chytka.
“I was the Executive Officer for 40th Engineers. We were the call forward force in Kuwait. And then we moved into Iraq. It was an eye opener, lot of challenging items. It stretched us, supporting different missions. Some of them did route clearance, some of them did construction. Some of them did battle space, kind of like infantry holding ground. It’s just amazing what one battalion of engineers can really get to do. I was the Deputy Commander for Afghanistan Engineering District North. We call it the bed down for Afghan forces, both national police and the national army. Our piece was helping build the facilities that they were going to occupy,” shared Chytka.
Colonel Chytka arrived in Mobile a year ago.
“I feel very blessed because Mobile District was my top choice. I chose it because first off it has a great mission everything from humanitarian assistance program projects to counter-narcotics work. Wonderful reputation of getting things done, getting things accomplished. We try to come up with engineer solutions for the nation building civil works, everything from coastal restoration, and environmental restoration to locks and dams. We also have regulatory and we have real estate for the Army. The key takeaway is that if there’s an engineering problem we’re in some way shape or form, in many cases touching it. We are a global district and a national treasure. It builds relationships between nations. We try to be objective, we don’t play favorites, we’re following the law and we’re following the best science. I love what I do and providence put me here to be a part of this historic district. It’s the team effort and I just feel very blessed. This is where I’m supposed to be at this time, with my family and with these wonderful people,” said Colonel Chytka.
Colonel Chytka is also proud of the Mobile District’s record on approving regulatory permits. He said amazingly in over 4,000 permits applied for, only one has been denied. And, if you enjoy Lakes Claiborne or Seminole, or the Coffeyville Lock and Dam, you have the Corps of Engineers to thank for it. Those are just three of the nearly 30 lakes and recreation areas nationally built, developed and maintained by the U-S Army Corps of Engineers.