Milton Ricks, a civil engineer and 15-year District employee in the Engineering Management Branch, recently received the Chairman’s Award for Valor from the New York City Federal Executive Board at a formal ceremony in Lower Manhattan. (The Federal Executive Board provides federal agency executives opportunities for collaboration and has 28 offices across the U.S.) The honor recognizes his participation in Operation United Assistance — providing logistics, training and engineering support to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in Monrovia, Liberia (West Africa), helping contain the Ebola virus. His nine-month deployment with the New York District’s Forward Engineer Support Team-Advanced (FEST-A) ran from January-September 2015.
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The assignment had special significance for Mr. Ricks beyond humanitarian support: He was born and raised in Monrovia and many family members and friends still reside there. Discussing mission challenges, he spoke about trying to separate his emotions from his work — which he was largely able to do — in part, because he believed the quality work the District has done in the past would again prevail. Several factors added to the challenge of the mission: Liberia, one of the wettest countries in the world averaging 170 inches of rainfall annually, already had acute humanitarian and health-care needs prior to the Ebola outbreak.
In a letter of recommendation, Arthur Connolly, chief of the Engineering Division, said, “As the Ebola virus spread, Mr. Ricks, a civil engineer, volunteered to deploy to West Africa at great personal risk as part of an Army Corps team to the support the mission, adding, “This mission required them to travel within Liberia for field work…putting their personal health, and possibly even their lives, at risk. His volunteerism and courage is commendable.”
Mr. Ricks, who has deployed multiple times to Afghanistan and Kuwait managing construction projects with the Corps of Engineers, had strong feelings prior to the mission. In the November 2014 issue of Yankee Engineer, a publication of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ New England District in Concord, MA, he said: “My father was a survey engineer and a very proud man. What I get from this is — if he was alive — he would be so proud that his son did this. That is my motivation.” He continues: “No way they [FEST-A] can go and I’m here in New York,” adding, “I know my way around, I know the culture, know the traditions…I can help.”
During his deployment, Milton served as liaison with local and Liberian Government agencies, including the Ministry of Public Works, the Land Commission, Ministry of Lands and Mines, and the national port to facilitate construction and logistics. In Buchanan City, he surveyed multiple sites, evaluating feasibility for use by U.S. Forces’ logistics and as a seaport storage facility.
Ricks holds a B.S. in engineering from Prairie View A&M University of Texas and is studying for a graduate degree in project management from the New Jersey Institute of Technology. When he isn’t working (or deployed), he enjoys collecting books of Liberia and African-American history, along with a large collection of jazz music. When he retires, he plans to return to Monrovia and again serve his native country by reinventing himself: raising goats, learning to play the guitar, and growing local crops such as hot peppers and a variety of edible greens.