Japan Engineer District
Published July 22, 2021
Two Guys Pass a Flag

Col. Bonham receives the Japan Engineer District Colors from Brig. Gen. Kirk Gibbs, Commanding General, Pacific Ocean Division, and thus assumes command of Japan Engineer District at a Change of Command ceremony July, 20, 2021

As the Japan Engineer District’s colors passed from Command Sgt. Maj. Douglas W. Galick to Col. Thomas J. Verell, Jr., to Brig. Gen. Kirk Gibbs, and then to Col. Gary S. Bonham in the time honored Army tradition, Col. Bonham took command of Japan Engineer District becoming their 21st Command Engineer July 20, at Camp Zama, Japan.

The ceremony, muted this year because of the global COVID-19 pandemic, featured all the pomp and circumstance of an outdoor ceremony but was held indoors due to a recent heat wave sweeping the Kanagawa and Tokyo areas. In attendance were Mr. Masato Sugiyama from Japan’s Ministry of Defense, Brig, Gen. JB Vowell from U.S. Army Japan, and Command Sgt. Major Jerry Dodson, U.S. Army Japan

Brig. Gen. Kirk Gibbs, Commanding General of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pacific Ocean Division, hosted the event.

“This ceremony comes at an important time for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, as we operate in one of the most strategically important regions in the world: the Indo-Pacific Theater,” he said. “Some of the most revolutionary efforts produced out of [Pacific Ocean Division] have come from this phenomenal district. [Their] contributions prove that Japan Engineer District has the most talented staff in USACE.”

Col. Thomas J. Verell, Jr., who took the reins of district command in 2018, was appreciative of his commander’s praise.

“Brig. Gen. Gibbs, thank you for your kind words,” Verell responded. “All of those accomplishments you pointed out are due to the men and women of the Japan Engineer District. They are the ones that dedicated themselves to serving the U.S.-Japan alliance.”

“It wasn’t just JED either,” he continued. “Our partnerships with all the Japan components, U.S. installations, Department of Defense agencies, U.S. Forces Japan, and the Government of Japan is truly the reason for our extraordinary success. But it is not our signed agreements that make us great. It’s the deep and long-lasting relationships built by every single person in the room and the people across all organizations and commands in Japan.”

Verell has been instrumental in affecting significant change at the Japan Engineer District, not only leading them through one of their most challenging logistical times in the history of the organization, the COVID pandemic, but also instituting sea change ideas in the division as well.

His implementation of the “Alliance Approach” to engineering, applying local standards and local elements to local projects is revolutionizing engineering and construction in Japan.

Verell was also instrumental in rebooting the Bilateral Senior Engineer Conference, attracting senior leaders from as far as Washington, D.C., to the event. He re-energized the alliance between USACE and the Engineers of the Japan Ground Self Defense Force. And he was also the first Commander of JED to have the honor of accepting Camp Zama’s Commander’s Cup, a local sporting competition between commands at Camp Zama that dates back 30 years.

For incoming commander Col. Gary S. Bonham, the advances that Verell helped institute in Japan are the first steps to greater goals.

“I look forward to the unique opportunity to continue the partnerships that Col. Verell has so ably nurtured,” he told the 100+ crowd in attendance. “I look forward to extending and building on the great foundations of our two great countries partnership and to building friendships with each and every one of you as we grow and reap the benefits of working together for the benefit of our two nations.”

The day was bittersweet for Verell, who, after the ceremony, would being a short trek across the pond where he will serve as Command Engineer for U.S. Forces Korea, located at Camp Humphreys, South Korea.

“I had a commander tell me once, when you start loving your unit as a commander it compromises you judgment,” Verell told the crowd. “Once you love them. It’s time to go. I have held onto that advice throughout my career. So, I truly love JED and every member of JED. My professed love means that it is time for me to go.”