Rear Adm. Edward Dieser, P.E., USPHS, became the 14th Chief Engineer Officer of the U.S. Public Health Service in January 2018. He previously was Deputy Associate Director for Emergency Management, National Center for Environmental Health and Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Before joining the Commissioned Corps in 2005, his career included seven years as a consultant in the private sector and eight years as a Medical Service Corps officer with the U.S. Army rising to the rank of captain, then continuing in the Army Reserve until 2003 as a major. Adm. Dieser earned a bachelor’s in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Notre Dame and holds a master’s degree in Environmental Engineering from the University of North Carolina.
TME: What are the objectives of Commissioned Corps engineers within the overall mission of the U.S. Public Health Service?
DIESER: The overall mission of the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps is to protect, promote, and advance the health and safety of our nation. This mission is achieved through rapid and effective response to public health needs, leadership and excellence in public health practice, and advancement of public health science.
As part of this mission, Commissioned Corps engineers are “Health Multipliers.” Our engineers engage opportunities that positively affect broad populations through their work on public infrastructure systems, including water, wastewater, HVAC, and solid waste; healthcare facilities such as hospitals, health clinics, and long-term care centers; design and approval of medical devices and safety equipment; and regulatory development and enforcement.
Our daily work spans research, engineering practice, and response operations, and our officers hold leadership positions inside and outside the Department of Health & Human Services. As Health Multipliers focused on providing capacity and capability to communities in crisis, serving the underserved, and driving innovation, our engineers demonstrate the essence of our motto—Engineering for Life: Ready, Willing, Able.
TME: What are some of the priority areas of focus both for you and the Commissioned Corps engineers?
DIESER: I fully support the call of the Surgeon General, Vice Adm. Jerome Adams, M.D., USPHS, for “Better Health Through Better Partnerships.” On a daily basis, I am looking for opportunities for us to collaborate and expand our engagement with existing and new partners. We are continually working with Health & Human Services to develop opportunities for engagement with our sister services and across government. I am optimistic about the future, but we must evolve and partner to succeed.
Commissioned Corps engineers are also working to enhance our response capability by identifying and defining a set of response core competencies—what I describe as our “Engineering Common Deployment Skills.” Once identified, we will seek opportunities to train our engineers, with the goals of establishing a strong baseline of capabilities. Just as every Marine is a rifleman, every Commissioned Corps engineer is an expeditionary public health engineer. That is the vision.
We also need to focus on encouraging and mentoring the next generations of engineers, scientists, and clinical practitioners. All of us, public and private sector alike, need to involve ourselves in STEM programs in our grade schools, middle schools, and high schools to keep our American generations pursuing degrees in engineering, science, and medicine. I know SAME is a leader in this pursuit, and we look forward to partnering.
TME: Can you discuss Commissioned Corps engineer responsibilities in response operations, including natural disasters and disease outbreaks?
DIESER: Our engineers are engaged in all aspects of Public Health Service response operations. They serve in primary leadership roles as well as traditional response roles of planning, operations and logistics. Engineering problem-solving and system design are well suited to time-limited, heavy consequence response operations.
Most critical however, is our public health expeditionary engineering capabilities and capacities. Our engineers provide key technical expertise and support for structural assessments, particularly of existing health care facilities and potential medical shelter locations as well as campus-based utility systems such as water, wastewater, power, and HVAC. These capabilities and capacities were critical to initiating a return to normal for communities across Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands following last year’s hurricanes. Our engineers continued to deploy well into recovery to support the long-term reestablishment of the health infrastructure including hospitals, clinics, and laboratory facilities.
Commissioned Corps engineers are key technical experts and leaders for innovation, policy, and action. We develop recommendations, processes, and medical products to mitigate disease outbreaks and injuries. After a precipitating event, our engineers write guidelines for consumers, workers, and patients in order to help prevent future occurrences.
TME: How does engineering influence public health?
DIESER: Adm. Brett Giroir, USPHS, the Assistant Secretary for Health, has called upon the Commissioned Corps to drive public health innovation. Certainly, our engineers assigned to the Centers for Disease Control, the Food & Drug Administration, and the National Institutes of Health are at the forefront of driving this innovation through their research and development. Our engineers are also driving advancements through regulation, policy, and technical guidance across Health & Human Services and in assignments with the Department of Homeland Security and the Environmental Protection Agency. Still others are driving innovation through traditional engineering practice in the Indian Health Service and National Park Service.
All engineers should strive to encourage people—whether military families stationed overseas, children living in inner cities, or retirees in rural areas—to make healthier decisions regarding how they live their lives. At SAME’s Joint Engineer Training Conference this past May, following the call of SAME National President Col. Marv Fisher, USAF (Ret.), I asked all engineers for “just one more” design consideration to make a healthy decision easier. I renew that request here: think how adding just one more walking path around a facility, for instance, can improve worker well-being.
TME: How have different assignments during your career influenced your leadership style and prepared you for your position as Chief Engineer Officer?
DIESER: Leadership begins with followership and teamwork, and this began at home for me with my parents and my sister. Being younger, I followed what my sister told me to do. In truth, my family gave me a great foundation. Reinforced through school, my formal leadership influences begin as a Junior Army ROTC Cadet at Marmion Academy, and subsequently as an Army ROTC Cadet and engineering student at the University of Notre Dame. That led to my commission into the Army Medical Department and an initial assignment with Charlie Company, 232nd Medical Battalion, Fort Sam Houston, Texas. The 232nd was a training unit for combat medics primarily staffed by senior noncommissioned officers and drill sergeants. Both were excellent teachers and kept us out of trouble.
On a daily basis, I am looking for opportunities for us to collaborate and expand our engagement with existing and new partners.
I also benefited from a close family of other second lieutenants as we learned from each other. I spent nearly half of that assignment as Acting Company Commander with only a third of the normally assigned drill sergeants due to Desert Storm. Considering I can remember all my superiors, lieutenants, sergeants (and several stories) it left quite a mark on me. I remain in touch with many of them today.
That command experience and my alignment as an Army sanitary engineer, propelled me to follow on assignments as the Commander of the 172nd Medical Detachment and Chief of the Environmental Engineering Division at what is now the Army Public Health Command Europe. These assignments taught me to respect each member of the team, take responsibility, and lead by example. They also instilled my desire to protect health.
After eight years in the Army, I spent seven years in the private sector. First, I obtained a master’s degree in Environmental Engineering from the University of North Carolina, and then worked five years as a consultant primarily to the Department of Defense (DOD), before returning to serve our country in the Public Health Service. My private sector experience provides me the balanced perspective of the entire government enterprise. I relate to a contractor’s perspective and understand their requirements and pressures. Our industrial partners and our non-governmental organizations are critical to our success as a nation.
The transition from my work as an Army sanitary engineer and civilian environmental compliance specialist, to a Public Health Service engineer was not as difficult as I expected. The mission of protecting and promoting health is the same. The skills and tools are the same. The difference is that Army engineers specialize in serving the warfighters and their families, while Public Health Service engineers expand their client base to encompass the entire population. This shift in population base is similar to that experienced by other uniformed engineers in their assignments with maneuver units and civil support agencies, such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
So much of leadership style and preparation I owe to my experiences before the Public Health Service. Throughout my education and career, whether as a follower or a leader, I sought opportunities to make improvements and a positive impact on the environment and people. I consider myself fortunate for my early career with the Army and time supporting DOD. Service in DOD remains a hallmark in leadership development for young men and women, and is a key factor in my desire to find opportunities for our officers to work with their fellow service components.
TME: What do you see as your legacy three years from now?
DIESER: I will leave legacy to others, though I do reflect on Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, USA, and his desire to “instill irreversible momentum,” which he borrowed from Gen. Eric Shinseki, USA (Ret.).
I hope to instill an irreversible momentum of our Commissioned Corps engineers being broadly engaged with engineering partners—bringing our capability and capacity to the forefront, increasing the number of engineers in future generations, and advancing the health of our environment and our nation.
TME: How can professional organizations like SAME support the needs of the Public Health Service?
DIESER: SAME has long-served our nation and all the uniformed services as a stalwart supporter of engineering and collaboration. I fully support the Society’s desire to continue to develop more engineers and technically focused professionals in the next generations. Outreach to the nation’s youth is crucial to increasing the number of engineering graduates, the number of engineering servicemembers, and the number of those advancing science and technology into the future.
One activity of highlight. I received personal accounts from our engineers regarding the rewarding time they spent as volunteers at SAME’s STEM Camps this past summer. I personally look forward to visiting an SAME camp and will continue to spread the word for volunteers.
Better Health through Better Partnerships. That is our charge—and SAME helps provide a collaborative environment that allows us to build partnerships, enhance our skills, and maximize our impact as Health Multipliers.
[Article first printed in the September-October 2018 issue of The Military Engineer]