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Baltimore District employee honored as USACE Program Manager of the Year

Baltimore District
Published Nov. 12, 2020

David Chai, the deputy chief of the Baltimore District’s Real Property Services Field Office, was honored as the 2020 USACE Program Manager of the Year during the Virtual National Awards Ceremony, Nov. 12, 2020.  

“David was under my command in the Far East District of the Pacific Ocean Division; however, now we’ve both moved to the North Atlantic Division,” said North Atlantic Division Commander, Brig. Gen. Thomas Tickner, who presented the award to Chai. “It is my honor to present this award virtually to one of my own.”   

Chai earned the award for his work as the chief of Security Operations Branch in the Programs & Projects Management Division (PPMD) for the Far East District. He was recognized for his exceptional leadership and outstanding accomplishments as the program manager for Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF) and secure facility projects for stakeholders in Korea, including the $10.7 billion Korea Transformation Program. He was also instrumental in developing complex acquisition tools to meet the unique construction and accreditation requirements of secure facilities.  

The Program and Project Management Community of Practice annually recognizes individuals who have made outstanding contributions to USACE and distinguished themselves through professional excellence, achievement, and superior performance in program management.   

Learn a bit more about the 2020 Program Manager of the Year below: 

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Where are you from? 

I normally claim Washington state, but in truth, I travelled around a lot in my youth because of my father's job (DA Civilian) and as an adult while serving in the military. 

Where did you go to school? 

University of Washington - Undergrad in Political Science 
University of Maryland, University College - Master of Business Administration (MBA) 

How did you end up with USACE? 

I received a call from a colleague that my last District was looking to hire project managers with experience in projects involving specialized designs and construction. They had so many great things to say about USACE and the work culture; I was hooked. 

Where has a career in USACE taken you? 

I've been a project manager, a program manager (branch chief), and now the deputy chief of a division at the District level. My first USACE assignment was out in Korea, and now I'm out here in Maryland. For work, I've had the opportunity to travel to Japan, Honolulu, Virginia, Huntsville, Los Angeles, Portland, Seattle, and the District of Columbia. 

What’s been the best so far? 

Being a supervisor at any level has been fantastic. Any opportunity to take care of people is extremely rewarding. This was true being a branch chief, and I'm already seeing it as the deputy here at RSFO. 

What skill has served you best throughout your career? 

I think the ability to effectively communicate both vertically and laterally, is often misconstrued.  It's an area that I constantly try to work on, while knowing that I need to truly understand the problem in order to get the right message across. This means that an individual needs to be able to listen and properly break down the information coming at them. So for me, the skill that has served me the best has been my ability to listen, which has helped me to effectively communicate. 

How have you evolved and continued to develop throughout your career? 

I feel that USACE has just helped to cultivate my leadership style and provided some unique training opportunities. I've had the fortune to work for and with some incredible people, which has shaped the way I approach different situations. Since starting with USACE, I believe I've evolved to better serve our workforce and really grown my technical expertise in this field. 

What are your plans for the future? 

In the near term, I want to focus on my time here and look at adding as much value as I can to RSFO and the District. I truly believe, for those who seek it, there are a ton of career opportunities with USACE,  and when the timing is right for me, I'll go where I'm needed. 

What do you do in your free time? 

I enjoy spending time with the family. Right now, we're exploring our community and Maryland as much as we can from a distance! This involves a lot of outdoor activities, like biking and fishing, while following social distance guidelines. 

Anything else you'd like to add? 

I'm just really happy to be here and to be a part of Baltimore District. My family and I have received a very warm welcome from RSFO, the District, and NAD, and I'm very grateful for that!