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Power Plant Electrician Honored by Army Chief of Staff for Leadership

Omaha District Public Affairs
Published June 18, 2015

During a standing-room-only ceremony at the Pentagon auditorium on May 29, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond T. Odierno recognized 28 company-grade commissioned and warrant officers for embodying the ideals of the Gen. Douglas MacArthur Leadership Award – Duty, Honor, Country. 

From the National Guard component, there was just one warrant-officer recipient.

“Only one warrant officer for the entire National Guard;  I thought there was no way in heck that it was me,” said Kenneth Podzimek, a Power Plant Electrician Trainee at the Fort Randall Dam Project in Pickstown, S. D., and a member of the South Dakota National Guard . “I thought that I had a better chance of getting struck by lightning twice.”

Podzimek, 32, has 14 years of military service under his belt, which included a year-long deployment to Iraq in 2004. His tenure with the Omaha District has been relatively short by comparison.

“I was involved in the interview process when he came aboard almost two years ago,” said Fort Randall’s Maintenance and Operations Manager Mike Schenkel. “Even then he seemed to have a good attitude and a good head on his shoulders.” 

Podzimek’s expertise isn’t limited to his work as a soldier and civilian employee in the Army. He’s certified in Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning from Mitchell Technical Institute and has operated his own HVAC business, K-Pod’s Heating and Cooling, for nearly a decade in Wagner, S.D. Podzimek also volunteers his time and expertise to improve the facilities of his local fire department and VFW hall.

“For his business he does a lot of geothermal heating and cooling; it’s kind of his specialty,” said Bill Reiser, the Senior Electrician at Fort Randall. “He’s been a real asset to us trying to maintain the heat pumps and different refrigerants systems here at the project. He helps to get things fixed here without us having to bring in a contractor.”

Podzimek originally joined the South Dakota Army National Guard as an enlistee, joining the 155th Engineer Company as a combat engineer junior enlisted soldier. He now plays a different role as a warrant officer.

“It is our technical expertise that pigeon holes us into our warrant officer spot,” said Power Plant Electrician Tyler Vogt, who not only works with Podzimek at the Fort Randall electrical shop, but also as a warrant officer in the 155th Engineer Company. Vogt is a chief warrant officer, one pay-grade higher than Podzimek. 

“As a warrant officer in this unit, when you get to a job site you are basically the foreman of the site. You’re lining up who’s doing what task, and the logistics of where specific materials need to go,” Vogt explained. “In mine and Kenny’s case, we worked in the civilian construction world for long enough that we know how the technical processes are supposed to work. In the Guard you get a lot of full-time office workers who don’t normally work in construction, and they need that extra technical guidance.”

Not only has Podzimek been excellent with technical guidance to his troops, he’s also proved himself as a capable leader during the most trying circumstances; specifically when the 155th suffered the loss of a soldier.

“He led from the front, took the time to talk to his Soldiers individually and mentored them through a very difficult time,” said Lt. Col. David Dailey, commander of the SDARNG’s 153rd Engineer Battalion (the parent battalion to the 155th Engineer Company), who nominated Podzimek for the MacArthur Leadership Award. “He has been an instrumental leader, using his abilities to mentor his subordinates to become a cohesive and resilient platoon.”

Podzimek is, for now back at work in South Dakota, with a new 15-pound bronze bust of General MacArthur to adorn upon a shelf of his choosing. “I’m going to try to keep my kids from knocking it over. My wife and I haven’t decided where we’re going to put it yet.”

True to the spirit of the Minuteman, amidst the build up to this award, his work at the Fort Randall Dam, and running his own business, Podzimek must always be ready. Along with the rest of the South Dakota Army National Guard’s 155th Engineer Company, these combat engineers must stand trained and ready to deploy for either natural disasters or in support of the regular Army in overseas operations.

“The 155 is a vertical engineering company,” Vogt explained. “We are carpenters, plumbers, electricians. A lot of what we do here electrically in the power plant complements the skills that we use in the military. But in the Guard we can apply those skills to more of a leadership role as warrant officers.”

And indeed, the leadership skills have been put to the test. When natural disasters occur, the National Guard is often activated to contain emergency situations. Podzimek’s technical knowledge shined while he managed several construction projects at once, and his team responded to the flood operations in southeast South Dakota and the tornado clean up for the Wessington Springs community, according to Dailey.

“He always makes an extraordinary effort to ensure his company is able to accomplish any mission,” said Dailey. “His dedication and integrity to the mission first, epitomizes the ideals for which this award stands.   

“His willingness to give back to his community through volunteering his time to local organizations directly reflects his values,” Daily said. “He is a top notch leader with unlimited potential that, without a doubt, has earned him the distinction of being recognized as the Gen. MacArthur Leadership Award recipient.”