Battle captains help navigate RFO through disaster recovery operations in Maui

USACE- Honolulu
Published Oct. 23, 2023
Uniformed female Army Soldier in uniform.

(From left to right) Battle captain, Capt. Ken Salazar-St. Louis District, RFO Commander Col. Jess Curry and Capt. Ryan Sexauer-Rock Island District go over situation reports at the RFO in Kihei, Hawai‘i Oct. 14. (Photo Credit: Richard Brown)

Three uniformed Army officers gathered around a computer

(From left to right) Battle captain, Capt. Ken Salazar-St. Louis District, RFO Commander Col. Jess Curry and Capt. Ryan Sexauer-Rock Island District go over situation reports at the RFO in Kihei, Hawai‘i Oct. 14. (Photo Credit: Richard Brown)

A Recovery Field Office is a vital element of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ operations during Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster recovery missions.

A management function of an RFO consists of a group of active-duty Soldiers, dubbed battle captains. Battle captains are a vital component of USACE’s disaster deployment response. A battle captain's primary tasks are to receive, track and distribute information to the team as well as advise the RFO commander, RFO personnel, and USACE leadership on current mission objectives.

In the Hawai‘i Wildfires RFO, there are three battle captains: Capt. Meagan Schroeder from the USACE Fort Worth District, Capt. Ryan Sexauer from the USACE Rock Island District and Capt. Ken Salazar from the USACE St. Louis District.

Each battle captain brings a diverse and unique set of skills to the mission. There is no job description for a battle captain. One day they could be working on informational slides in the RFO and the next be out in the field facilitating key leader engagements; the team must remain flexible. Although their duties can change daily, the team has found their stride.

“What’s great about the team not having specific job duties is that if something needs to be done, whatever battle captain is not currently working on a project can jump in to help wherever they are needed,” said Sexauer.

Although the team may not have finite job descriptions, there are certain duties they have divvied up amongst themselves.

One of Salazar’s main duties in the RFO is to ensure all team members, as well as RFO Commander Col. Jess Curry, are aware of all scheduled meetings and meeting requests. For example, different teams throughout the RFO juggle a myriad of meetings daily amongst one another as well as federal, county and state partners. Salazar keeps a working list of these meetings and makes updates as needed.

Salazar also facilitates the weekly USACE cultural training sessions held for employees who are unable to attend during their in-processing with the RFO.

“I have worked disaster events in the past and have learned something during each one,” said Salazar. “While on Maui, I have learned a lot about the people of Hawai‘i and their culture. Facilitating these weekly meetings and listening to local USACE Hawaiian team members talk about their culture has been impactful for me.”

While Salazar makes sure the team is made aware of meetings, Sexauer is responsible for ensuring command is aware, so no meeting goes unattended for operational continuity.

Sexauer and Schroeder work in tandem to create various communication products to keep RFO leadership appraised of information pertinent to the mission.

Schroeder is the lead battle captain and RFO operations officer. She was the first battle captain deployed to Maui, and as the first to arrive, was responsible for setting the tone and the pace for the rest of the battle captains.

“This is actually my first disaster deployment, so I had to get into the swing of things and do it quickly,” said Schroeder. “Even though I am the lead battle captain, everything we do really is a team effort.”

Although this is Schroeder’s first time on Maui, she has a special connection to the people of Hawai‘i.

“I lived on Oahu as a lieutenant, so being able to be here and help the people of a place I love so much, has been an honor,” she said.

Like her counterparts, Schroeder performs a variety of duties. One of the areas she oversees is the coordination of engagements with government officials and senior leaders.

This is also Sexauer’s first disaster deployment, but he is no stranger to emergency responses, having responded to flooding events in his home district.

“This last spring, we had a flood along the Mississippi River, and I was able to work alongside the Rock Island District’s emergency operations center and performed similar duties to what I am doing now, but it was a very different type of emergency management,” he said. “Working that event gave me a good baseline to start from before coming to Maui.”

Collectively, the group agrees this experience is allowing them to broaden their skills and gain valuable insight into how USACE manages disaster operations while being able to assist the teams helping the people of Maui.