Japan Engineer District
Published Nov. 18, 2021
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers - Japan District's engineering team from the Misawa Resident Office.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers - Japan District's engineering team from the Misawa Resident Office.

Tucked in the upper left corner of the third floor of the 35th Civil Engineer Squadron building a little way into Misawa Air Base, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is hiding a gem - the Misawa Resident Office, a satellite branch of Japan Engineer District, perched atop Japan’s main island of Honshu’s northernmost tip in a prefecture called Aomori.

“Misawa’s a great place. The community, the weather. The people up here are just really nice. It’s really comfortable here,” evangelizes David Flynn, Project Engineer and defacto dual-hatted office “leader.” He’s currently serving as Office Engineer as well as being the senior Department of the Army Civilian, or DAC, of the Misawa Office. They’ve not had a Resident Engineer in some time, and in the absence of that leadership, Flynn has stepped up to help lead the reins.

The other person helping fill that position is Guillermo Provencio from JED’s Yokosuka Resident Office located some 743 km (462 miles) south of Misawa in Kanagawa prefecture. He’s mostly seen via video teleconferences but makes the 5-hour train ride up north on the days he’s needed. Days like today.

“The office has a very good staff – knowledgeable. They know how to work projects,” Provencio says. “The [Japanese employees], they’re always willing to help both programs. Their primary function here is the Government of Japan program, but also willing to help [with] the U.S. program. We have a good, knowledgeable staff in our Misawa Office.”
Like most USACE branches in Japan (there are 12 in total), the Misawa Resident Office deals in both American construction for on-base projects as well as Japanese construction for what’s referred to as “host-nation projects,” because Japan is the host of military Americans serving in the country.

Some of the more recent projects they’ve worked on for the American military community in Misawa include an electrical upgrade for families living on base, as well as the prominent water tower that stands silent watch over the joint Misawa instillation. But if you were to ask the people who comprise the Misawa community who was behind their quality of life improvements, odds are you’d come up blank. It’s pretty amazing that the team behind nearly $200 million in project funding would be relatively unknown.

That makes JED’s Misawa Resident Office the unsung heroes not just one service, but three. The base a Misawa is actually home to two U.S. services, the Navy and the Air Force, as well as the host nation Japan Ground Self Defense Force.

Recently they jumped through hoops to make sure that the local on-base middle high school, named for Col. Robert D. Edgren, former commander of the 6920th Air Wing, was up and running even before construction could be finished, allowing the students to study in a 21st century learning space. It was an extraordinary achievement.

Seeing these new building spring into existence was one of the draws that attracted general engineer, and Misawa team member, Kasumi Kudo. She grew up in the area, about 30 minutes from where she now works with USACE. Being a local employee who transcends the wall provides a special allure to those living around a military base. Everyone stares at the walls and imagines what’s inside. Now Kudo knows firsthand. After all, she builds what’s inside now.

“I can see a lot of new buildings here on the base.” Kudo says, gesturing to the sprawl of buildings that divide the multi-colored fall leaves blanketing the view from the office widows. “I get to experience things that people who live off-base will never see. I can experience all these things… it’s interesting.”

An architecture major, Kudo returned to Aomori Prefecture to land a position with a reprocessing plant after graduation. When she moved from that job to a position with Japan Engineer District, it was her first opportunity to work directly with Americans.

“This office is comfortable for me because [everyone] is so friendly. They help me when I need it. I learn about their [American] culture. It’s interesting for me,” she said.

The office is truly international, playing home to some six current employees: four Japanese, two American. And even though they’re outnumbered by half, Flynn and his cohort Bill Ridgeway, the quality assurance representative, are absolutely enamored with being the USACE representatives up north. There’s no culture shock, they say. Only the harmony of family.

“It’s a great place to live. We’re out in the country, not in the big city. The community’s really nice. It’s enjoyable… peaceful. It’s a good place to live – the quality of life is good,” Ridgeway testifies when pushed on what’s kept him in Misawa for the last 5 and-a-half years. “It’s just really nice up here. Mountains on one side of you, ocean on the other… lake right there also. If you like nature this is not a bad place.”

But it’s not just the scenery that keeps Ridgeway content, there’s real job satisfaction as well. “I help keep everything moving. It’s important helping families, [like] with the school, water and sewer infrastructure upgrades, just improving the bases’ capability like when we put in the new water tower… we’re all about keeping things moving! I love this place.”
Flynn agrees. He’s driven from one end of Japan to the other and found no place better.

“We’ve got a great team up here,” he says. “We’ve got a great admin specialist, she’s great. We‘ve got good project engineers; Bill’s a good QAR. Guillermo and Tommy Rose, Lee Seeba, with all that support [from Kanagawa] it’s just really good.”

“It’s a great place to work. We’re a good team up here. I couldn’t ask for more.”