Ten presidents and over half a century ago, Oregon native Lyle Wold enlisted in the army. It was 1970, an epic year for a 17-year-old boy to become a man.
The Vietnam War was in full swing; Elvis Presley, The Beatles, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin were all still rocking and rolling; it'd be another year before the first personal computer would hit the market; and the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center were nearing completion, with the North Tower becoming the tallest building in the world.
Young Wold kept busy working on the family farm in his rural hometown of Hillsboro (population 15,000), which lies in the heart of the Tualatin Valley, just west of the big city of Portland.
There, Wold grew up doing the typical Pacific Northwest work one might expect—processing vegetables in a cannery and logging timber from the forest—to name a couple.
Coming of age, his desire to wear the Army uniform seemed a natural fit for a kid who grew up surrounded by men who served in World War II. Wold figured, "My dad was in, the draft was on, I was in high school and it made sense."
So he said goodbye to his family and friends and set off to meet his future. Fifty years later, at age 71, he is still serving his country—only in civilian clothes—for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE).
However, most of Wold's federal career was spent in the brown and green hues of his battle dress uniform. He grinned with pride as he remembered his last day of active duty was on his 60th birthday, at which point, "they told me I can't play anymore."
For the nearly 20 years of active-duty service that he did play, he played well—and in many different roles. The range of experience he collected was impressive—truck driver, recruiter, instructor, administrator, logistician, emergency responder, maintenance, construction, and security supervisor.
As a Combat Engineer in the 162nd Engineer Company, Wold served as a squad leader, platoon sergeant, brigade engineer and first sergeant. Later in his career, his assignments as command sergeant major consisted of both staff and line assignments.
After the fall of the Twin Towers, Wold deployed overseas. During the Iraq War, he spent about 18 months between Iraq and Kuwait where, as he put it, "I got shot at and missed, shat at and hit."
Wold confided that his fondest memory of being a green-suiter was his time as an instructor, teaching construction, demolitions and explosives to the non-commissioned officers at the Oregon Military Academy.
"I loved being an instructor," Wold said as he reminisced, "I really miss the training portion of it."
Luckily for Wold, the need for leadership doesn't end at Army retirement—and fortunately for USACE, Wold simply swapped his military dog tags for a civilian name tag as a security specialist in USACE's Portland District.
Given his background, it was a perfect fit, but perhaps more so because, according to Wold, "if you say you're going to do something, you do it; you follow through with it."
And for him, that includes his commitment to public service, whether enlisted or not. As he put it, "It's [USACE] part of the army, and I've just continued to do the same thing: serve my country."
Wold reflected, "Some people don't see it that way. They see it as a job," but he continued proudly, "…it does take a certain attitude. In the private sector, it's about the money. Here, it goes back to that commitment to the mission. Some people are not cut out for it. Others fall right into it."
While he acknowledges that at times, it sucks, and the work can be challenging and frustrating—he would do it all again. "I love solving problems," Wold smiled.
That said, he certainly came to the right place. 'Solving the nation's toughest challenges' is literally the vision of USACE.
In the spirit of solution finding, Wold eventually transferred from the security office to the project controls section, which gave him much more latitude in solving challenges.
"It's rewarding in the sense that the whole world (at least in Portland District) spins around what we do in project controls. We maintain budget and schedules for everything that happens in Portland District."
After fifteen years in USACE, you'd think Wold might have a list of favorite projects he's worked on—and he kind of does. "It's a real simple list," he said and winked, "the ones that get done."
In retirement, there will be no shortage of projects to complete. A 20-acre family farm (in the now metropolis of Hillsboro, population 106,000) and a growing honey-do list await him. "I look forward to spending time with my wife of 33 years, our three kids and six grandkids," Wold smiled. Then his voice trailed off a bit as he reflected, "I will miss the people. The camaraderie. It's always hard to say goodbye; a lot of memories…"
But some people wonder—would Wold ever retire?
With over a half-century of federal public service, Wold is 'officially' set to retire, although some have doubts. It's easy to see why, too. No one gets past Lyle Wold's desk without answering his sincere question, "How can I serve you today?"
Parting thoughts from a semi-centennial:
"I try to instill in the new people the importance of what we do and why we do it certain ways. And that doesn't mean we can't change. We see change all the time." Wold described "the desire to do it right" and "don't be afraid to question something" as essentials to success.
- Make sure you understand the mission and what your part in the mission is.
- Reach out and get a mentor right away.
- Plan your retirement early. Go to the retirement seminars because things change.
- Learn all the time.
- Don't assume an email will answer all your questions or even be read. Reach out to people!
"It [USACE] is a great place to work. There are lots of opportunities. It's a wide-open field—anything you want to do, you could probably do. Whether you're going into fish biology, environmental services, regulatory, engineering, or supervision."
The possibilities are endless.