Col. Scott Preston, the Commander and District Engineer of the Tulsa District U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, is the senior military officer and engineer of the district. Along with overseeing more than 700 engineers and professionals, Preston focuses specifically on Civil Works, Military Programs and the Operations of USACE projects and activities for all of Oklahoma, as well as southern Kansas and north Texas. His operational deployments include Operation Joint Guardian, Kosovo, in 1999; Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003 and 2008; and Operation Enduring Freedom in 2010. Additionally, he is a husband, father and a licensed Professional Engineer. We sat down with Preston and got his thoughts on …
… when his interest in engineering began.
I’ve wanted to be an engineer since I was a kid. When I went to college, I knew I wanted to do engineering because it takes science and makes it into something you can use. I was specifically interested in civil engineering because it’s broader and covers more areas – soils, dams, bridges, water, harbors – all kinds of areas. I love that broad piece of engineering.
… lessons he’s learned from deployments, and from life in general.
I think the number one thing is that it’s about the relationships, fostering positive relationships – with superiors, peers, partners, subordinates. Really, having good relationships is what accomplishes the mission. I’ve served tours [around the world] … and it was important to build rapport with locals and show what you can do to help them.
… his volunteerism with Boy Scouts of America and Lambda Chi Alpha.
When I grew up, my dad and grandfather were both Boy Scouts, so I wanted to do it and ended up going through the whole process and becoming an Eagle Scout. When I went to college, I didn’t do much, but once I had kids, I remembered how much I loved that program. The values, getting outdoors, working with adults – I wanted my kids to experience those things. I have two kids. One is an Eagle Scout; she’s one of two girls that were the first in Tulsa to get to Eagle Scout – she lives and breathes Scouting. My son has been in it since Cub Scouts.
As for Lambda Chi Alpha, I was in that fraternity in college. It’s a great atmosphere to mentor young men, help them to become productive citizens and learn a lot of life lessons.
… the civilian employees of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
We have a lot of civilian employees; they don’t wear the uniform but they are all patriots. They love serving the American people. They could easily quit and find a job in the private sector or at a major corporation and probably get paid more, but they love the feeling of what they provide the American people.
… his greatest accomplishment.
Earning the title of a Professional Engineer. That has definitely been the most challenging thing I’ve ever done. It shows true commitment to the process, and I earned that right.
… his love of Oklahoma.
Although I’m from Missouri, Oklahoma is my second home. I think we [he and his family] would stay here forever if I didn’t have family in Missouri. It’s a great place to raise a family. I’ve lived in Virginia, Kentucky, Kansas … and Tulsa is the perfect size. It’s a big city, but not too big, and it has such an interesting history. I’ve read up on the Dust Bowl, and I’m also a Civil War buff and participate with a local organization here.
… what he does in his off-hours.
Scouting is the main one – I participate in events a couple times a month. I just recently staffed a Cub Scout camp. As for hobbies, I’m a collector. I’ve got lots of stamps, comic books, military items and a range of things. I love collecting and learning the historical significance of things.
… the responsibilities of Tulsa’s Corps of Engineers.
We do the civil works for the state. We cover 1/3 of Kansas as well as the top piece of Texas, because the assignments are based on watersheds. We manage 38 total reservoirs that are all man-made. One of our biggest responsibilities is preventing flooding. We also handle recreation. Pre-COVID, it would be busy at the water during a 3-day weekend, but during the week it wasn’t too bad. Now, we’re seeing holiday record numbers on regular weekends as people rediscover the outdoors. They’ve realized they don’t need to go to Florida or Mexico, the fun is right here in your backyard.
We also handle water supplies – through contracts, irrigation, drinking water and industrial use. We also have hydropower – there are eight power plants, all in the Tulsa district, as well as 22 turbines. We handle navigation – the Arkansas River heads to the Mississippi River, then to New Orleans and out to the ocean. While a big piece of that industry is in Little Rock, we have a good portion here in Oklahoma. Those are the big missions on the civil works side. On the military program side, we handle any construction that Congress has authorized for airport or the Army, including Air Force bases. We host clinics, projects and programs for bases. We’ve constructed two hangars at Tinker Air Force Base, with two under construction this year as well. Here, we have about 750-800 employees, mostly civilians. There are only about 10 military members.