#IAMAFCE: Meet Col. Michelle Harwood

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  • AFIMSC Public Affairs

(Editor's Note: Engineers Week is this month and we wanted to take the opportunity to spotlight member of the Air Force Civil Engineer Center and Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center team doing great things for the Air Force and civil engineering community.)

TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- Meet Col. Michelle Harwood, director of both the operations and energy directorates at the Air Force Civil Engineer Center's Detachment 1,Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida.

What are your main responsibilities?
I oversee the programs, processes and personnel responsible for delivering cost-effective energy assurance solutions and mission-focused training systems and facility and infrastructure standards Air Force-wide. In short, we provide the training, tools, standards and support base civil engineers need to keep their installations running.

What is the best thing about your job?
Helping civil engineer squadrons solve their most challenging problems. Both directorates have subject matter experts and leading technicians with centuries of combined experience between them.

As a child, what job did you want to have when you grew up?
I wanted to be an astronaut; even the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster did not discourage me.

What made you pursue engineering as a career?
Competing on an “Odyssey of the Mind” team in junior high was my first introduction to engineering, though I didn’t think of it as engineering at the time. Science and math were always my favorite subjects in school, but it wasn’t until I pursued an Air Force ROTC scholarship that I considered engineering. I really enjoyed my environmental science class in high school, and when I saw that as an ROTC degree choice I thought it would be similar. I quickly realized in statics class during my first semester that the two were not at all alike — I had no idea what I’d gotten myself into! From there, I guess you could say I stumbled into engineering, but it turned out to be a great fit for me.

What is your favorite part about being an Air Force CE?
I enjoy the breadth of experiences the Air Force has provided. As an officer, I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to live overseas, deploy to different theaters and lead organizations of varying size and scope. As a CE, I’ve enjoyed working with base CEs and leaders across the Air Force and learning about the various missions and unique support requirements they need to ensure their infrastructure adequately supports their missions. That range of experiences and opportunities is unique to the Air Force CE field.

Why is your job important to the Air Force mission?
Installations are critical to air power. My teams help base CE squadrons establish, operate, sustain, protect and recover installations so they can stay focused on their mission and keep the Air Force in flight.

What advice do you have for someone new to the engineering field?
Seek out mentors and advisors that are different than you, as well as those who are similar. Whether their background is from the military, civilian or private industry sector; officer or enlisted; different gender or race; or a completely different career field — each have different perspectives and experiences that offer unique perspective. Diversity challenges your status quo and shines a light on blind spots you may have.

What motivates and inspires you the most?
Our young Airmen are inspiring and their enthusiasm is contagious. They join us excited to be part of the Air Force and ready to change the world. You can’t help but feel motivated and inspired when you’re around them. As a leader, I’m responsible for fostering an organizational culture that keeps that spark alive. My goal is to create an environment that allows them to reach their full potential, prepares them for tomorrow’s fight and retains the talent needed to meet future challenges. 

If there was one engineering marvel or achievement that you could have been a part of, what would that have been and why?
I’m living that dream right now as part of the Tyndall AFB rebuild. It’s not every day the Air Force undertakes a construction effort the magnitude of rebuilding Tyndall as the Installation of the Future. It’s exciting and extremely gratifying to play a part in such an impactful effort. My team assisted the Tyndall Project Management Office with facility damage assessments, intensive planning efforts, wind load and flood elevation design analysis and recommendations and evaluating Installation of the Future proposals and advising on selected initiatives. My team provided that assistance while many were still recovering and rebuilding their own homes — a true testament of the selfless service of the Air Force and AFCEC team.

Is there anything you would like to add?
I would just like to give a shout out of appreciation to the operations and energy directorates. Thank you for all you do for the Air Force Civil Engineer enterprise!