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Engineers Week Spotlight: Lt. Cmdr. Ian Underwood Advocates Not Just for Engineering but Support Trades

02/23/21 12:24 PM

photo of Lt. Cmdr. Ian Underwood

WASHINGTON – Lt. Cmdr. Ian Underwood, military construction director, is representing Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command (NAVFAC) Washington for Engineers Week. He serves at Naval Support Activity Bethesda which supports Walter Reed National Military Medical Center as well as other tenet commands.

Lt. Cmdr. Underwood leads a team dedicated to bringing to reality the Defense Health Agency’s military construction projects at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. All focus is on the project to demolish and rebuild 500,000 square feet of hospital space, estimated to cost $570 million dollars. NAVFAC Washington has put in place another $100 million dollars of projects to get this renovation off the ground over the last few years and has grown its Project Execution Team at Public Works Department Bethesda to match the challenge.

Lt. Cmdr. Underwood’s engineering journey to the National Capital Region begins back in North Carolina. His father was a mechanical engineer that worked on projects ranging from skateboard design to space shuttle support and everything in-between.

“Whenever I asked him as a kid, ‘What do engineers do,’ he always replied, ‘We solve problems’,” Lt. Cmdr. Underwood said. “As a kid, that answer seemed like an adult blowing off a kid’s question. In retrospect, he was totally right, if not overly simple.”

As a teenager, Lt. Cmdr. Underwood began to understand how his father knew a little bit about almost everything. He gained an appreciation for why he was in school and why those classes mattered. He possessed a natural propensity for science and math, so his parents pushed him toward engineering. He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree at North Carolina State University and later went to grad school at the University of Florida, as he puts it, “Just to punish my sweat glands… and get a graduate degree in civil engineering.”

In 2001, Lt. Cmdr. Underwood enlisted in the U.S. Navy with the goal of earning a commission as an officer in the Civil Engineering Corps. His experience in supporting the Department of Defense at the facilities and installation level propelled him to refocus as a contracting and facilities engineer. His initial tour of duty serving at NAVFAC Washington from 2012 to 2014 was as the first ever Public Works Officer at Marine Barracks Washington.

“Washington D.C. has unique opportunities for just such support and service. At Marine Barracks Washington, I directly served the Commandant of the Marine Corps, hosted diplomatic and entertainment celebrities, and helped conserve some of the oldest federal structures in the country.”

Lt. Cmdr. Underwood is often asked by parents what studies their children should pursue after high school and most often he recommends the most technically demanding curriculum their child is interested in.

“You can always change your mind about a college major or go where the winds of fate blow you personally or professionally, but having a solid technical background opens doors and offers invaluable insights on the world around us. In the same vein, young people should never discount a career in the trades, as our country is facing a critical shortage of skilled labor! If they enjoy creating or building, but are not interested in years of heavy math, physics, or computer science, opportunities are blossoming right now in the engineering support trades like welding, electrical, plumbing and fabricating as well!”

In addition to that sage advice, Lt. Cmdr. Underwood understands the value of a grateful attitude.

“I am proud to carry on my father’s work in engineering, and to continue the legacy of the fine officers of the Civil Engineer Corps. In my current role, I would like to thank the men and women investing their lives in creating a new center of care for our servicemembers and their families. And my heartfelt thanks to all the engineers (and architects!) that have molded me and mentored me along the way – I hope I can give back to our profession in similar fashion!”

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