US Army Corps of Engineers
Omaha District

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Son is his lifelong inspiration... Sexton: Loyalty, dedication to mission in critical focus at all times

Published Oct. 10, 2014
Lt. Col. Michael Sexton seeks to balance himself on a fence he intends to repair during a recent volunteer mission with the Omaha District.

Lt. Col. Michael Sexton seeks to balance himself on a fence he intends to repair during a recent volunteer mission with the Omaha District.

Lt. Col. Michael Sexton.

Lt. Col. Michael Sexton.

Lt. Col. Michael Sexton has bigger fish to fry-but this isn't one of them. Befriending a pallid sturgeon on the river can be enlightening.

Lt. Col. Michael Sexton has bigger fish to fry-but this isn't one of them. Befriending a pallid sturgeon on the river can be enlightening.

So here’s this great big engineering organization with billion-dollar programs six or seven years running and it has a Lieutenant Colonel delivering office mail…What the? Talk about doing it all…covering all the bases.

Other information gleaned from a question and answer session:

Q: What is your management philosophy?
A: I believe in open door policy, and I want people to come in and talk. I like to talk. As I delivered mail, people told me they needed more help or they’d like to see a policy change…it’s important to be informed and open. I want to know what is on the worker’s mind. And I want to solve problems. Lt. Col. Mark Martinez was working on a lot of good things when he left here—I plan to keep those projects and efforts rolling.

Q: Who is your favorite author?
A: Right now, it’s Bill O’Reilly. His Killing Lincoln, Killing Kennedy, Killing Patton, books are so interesting. I have read them all.

Q: Where is your favorite place to visit?
A: Las Vegas, but not for all the reasons people think. I don’t gamble. No casinos for me. As a young Nebraskan I went to UNLV. I met my wife, my son was born there, and generally we had great times in the mountains surrounding the city.

Q: What is the biggest challenge you have faced?
A: Trying to recover from the loss of my son. He waged a two-year fight—everything was easy up until then.

Q: What is your favorite music?
A: Country music. I like all the country songs. I also like classic 80’s rock. You never forget the music you grew up with.

Q: What are your hobbies?
A: Home improvement projects. Anything around the house. I put a new roof on and someday I will build my own house.

Q: Favorite sports?
A: I liked watching my kids in sports (Amanda is now a 25-year old teacher and 16-year old Jennifer is at Millard West.) But I guess I’d say football—the usual answer.

Q: Greatest achievement?
A: My Army career. I spent 15 years in the private sector before joining the reserves in 1986. I never expected to be in this position. Every time I got promoted I said “That’s as far as I‘ll go.”

Q: So you never expected to be delivering mail?
A: Laughter.

“Actually that’s a bad characteristic of mine that I need to work on,” says Lt. Col. Michael Sexton, Omaha District Deputy Commander. “I try to tackle everything myself.” He saw a personnel shortage and he acted.

His superb mail delivering skills notwithstanding, he actually has far greater fish to fry. “Actually, I delivered mail just so I could get out and about and talk to the workforce, cubicle by cubicle,” he said. “It’s important to talk to the workforce and I kind of like ‘management-by-wandering-about.’ You can learn a lot…”

His sense of humor and smile are the first things you notice about this tall, stout uniformed soldier and servant. But he’s deadly serious when he says “Loyalty and dedication to mission are where my focus lies.”

And what he sees in the Omaha District is pleasing. “I see a very dedicated, family-oriented, long-term committed workforce. I was in the private sector for a long time and most employees roll in for 2 or 3 years. Here, the two-three year employees are the exception. People are in it for the long haul and super dedicated to the mission. The institutional knowledge of this workforce is phenomenal,” he said. “The selfless service I have seen in the Omaha District really impresses me.”

Sexton doesn’t shy away from the tough issues – like the workforce’s feedback on the Command Climate Survey. Some of the issues identified include:

  • Lack of understanding of work processes at CDR/DPM level, resulting in non-value added "make-work".
  • Poor communication within the district. -- A lack of trust and accountability.
  • The lack of true recognition for hard work.
  • The feeling that leadership only cares about execution, not people.
  • People are overworked and morale is low.
  • Leaders are failing to lead by example and adhere to Army values.
  • Pockets of resistance where harassment and hostile environments are allowed to continue.
  • Perceived existence of a “Good Ol’ Boy” System.
  • Reverse discrimination - managers are afraid to hold people accountable. 
“Well it certainly told us things we need to know and laid bare what we need to deal with. The way I see it, it outlines opportunities for leaders and the workforce to make things better.” 

The man who has served in Central America, South America, South Korea, Afghanistan, Iraq and Qatar during his 28-year Army career, has been under intense fire before. 

“I like to think that I am able to calmly solve problems. My job is to analyze and solve problems and we are focusing on the areas in which we must show improvement. As the Commander said in his letter to the workforce, our employees deserve the best work environment possible. So we need to communicate better and ensure that opportunities are open to all. We need to be fair, honest and open.”
Sexton’s positive demeanor begs the question “Who inspired you most in your life?” 

“My son Sean,” he says without hesitation. “We lost him to leukemia last year. I watched him for two years as he battled his disease and fight that fight. He will be my inspiration for the rest of my life.” 

He points to a picture on his desk – it is his son, in the hospital, pinning on his Dad’s medals when he got promoted to Lieutenant Colonel. “Col. Ruch (former district commander) made that moment possible and it meant so much to me.”