SOUTH EL MONTE, Calif. --
Col. Julie Balten relinquished command of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Los Angeles District to Col. Andrew Baker during a change of command ceremony July 14 at the LA District Baseyard near Los Angeles.
Joining the ceremony were family and friends of Balten and Baker, along with congressional representatives and staff; federal, state, county and local leaders; private partners and stakeholders; military, civil and interagency program partners; and current and former team members of the LA District.
Brig. Gen. Antoinette Gant, the South Pacific Division commander, served as presiding officer for the ceremony.
Gant praised Balten’s leadership throughout the past three years and the hard work of the diverse team of more than 800 personnel whose work covers 226,000 square miles, 420 miles of coastline, 14 harbors, and the highest, lowest and hottest spots in the contiguous 48 states, while managing an annual budget of more than $750 million.
The LA District area of responsibility also includes three Army installation, eight Air Force installations, numerous international and interagency customers, 52 members of Congress, four governors, 170 Native American tribes and numerous federal, state and county partners.
Gant said she was grateful to Balten for leading the district team as its members supported numerous emergency management missions, including delivering hospital upgrades and alternate care facilities in support of COVID-19 relief efforts, providing advanced flood-fighting measures for communities impacted by unusually high levels of precipitation and snow melt, and mobilizing personnel and resources to support the Santa Barbara debris-removal mission and wildfire relief activities.
During Balten’s command, the LA District delivered a significant portion of work for the Department of Veterans Affairs at both the Long Beach and San Diego health care system campuses, with more than $650 million obligated to VA projects this year alone. This includes mental health facilities in Long Beach and a Spinal Cord Injury/Community Living Center in San Diego, among other VA projects.
Gant said Balten has “been the driving force in numerous important civil works efforts funded by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, to include the Port of Long Beach, the Los Angeles River Ecosystem Restoration Project and shoreline protections along San Diego County.”
“There are simply too many accomplishments and achievements for me to talk about that have happened over the past three years,” Gant said.
Gant thanked Balten for the legacy she is leaving not only for the Los Angeles District, but for the Corps as a whole.
“Your selfless service, your dedication to the region and to the nation and your follow-through on your commitments are all just models for other leaders to emulate,” Gant said. “I just want to say thank you. Your passion, your energy — you have truly been an inspiration for the Los Angeles District. They’re going to continue to do great things, and it’s because of the foundation you have set.”
During her remarks, Balten brought attention to the many familiar faces in the crowd at the ceremony, including those with the LA District team, as well as county, city, military partners, fellow commanders, friends and family.
“I feel so fortunate to have had this opportunity to command such an incredible district just filled with people who are committed to service, finding those innovative, bold solutions to those tough challenges through transparent partnerships, where together we deliver projects that make a lasting impact and differences in the lives of others,” she said.
Balten took command in July 2020 at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, which she said presented its own share of challenges as telework and social distancing made the process of getting to know her new team difficult at first.
“I am a people person, so going into the office and not being able to reach out and communicate directly with people was tough, but we all had to learn and navigate it together and overcome those challenges. Collectively we charted those waters through the unknown to where we are today — a more resilient workforce with the flexibility to be collaborative, while also delivering the program from everywhere and anywhere possible.”
Balten, who is now set to retire from the Army after more than 27 years of distinguished service, welcomed Baker and his family, and wished them well on the challenges ahead.
During his remarks, Baker made it a point to thank Balten for welcoming him and his family to the district and for making a smooth transition possible between the two leaders, including a weeklong visit to the district in early April.
“I can’t thank you enough for all you’ve done for my family and me both in person back in April and during the past few days, getting me up to speed on the district, and on living and working in this great, massive city, and really your friendship, mentorship and encouragement,” he said.
“It is so clear to me that your dynamic and optimistic leadership was tremendously impactful as the district successfully navigated challenge after challenge over the past three years,” Baker said. “We heard the impressive list of projects of such great consequence. It’s really amazing what you and the team have accomplished.”
Baker, who comes to LA from a previous assignment as the Joint Task Force Bravo chief of operations in Honduras, took extra time to express gratitude to his wife and two daughters for “their example of service above self and their unwavering support, and then thanked Gant for helping make it possible for him to take on his new role as district commander.
“Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to serve in the storied Los Angeles District, for the warm welcome, counsel and mentorship over the past few months, and the lovely words about my family and friends,” Baker said to Gant. “I look forward to serving with you and the South Pacific Division team as we work to deliver vital solutions, in collaboration with our partners, to secure our nation, energize our economy and reduce disaster risk.”
Lastly, Baker said he was excited to start working with the many district partners and stakeholders, and with the district team itself, which he said has “an amazing reputation throughout the Corps, earned over 125 years — starting with that breakwater way back, down in San Pedro, to today — delivering infrastructure critical to the nation’s economy, resiliency and defense on a massive scale.”
“Whether it be servicing our nation’s largest ports, providing outstanding support to nation’s service members, veterans and our defense, or for our collective national resiliency through disaster risk-reduction projects, the LA District has always, always answered the call,” Baker said. “I’m looking forward to doing my part to support the LA District’s continued work to safely deliver quality projects on schedule and within budget for the American people.”