Spotlight on Capt. Derek Thornton

Published Oct. 16, 2012

GALVESTON, Texas (Oct. 16, 2012) - It’s no secret that successful engineers often exhibit similar personality traits ranging from possessing strong problem solving skills to working well as a team, so it didn’t come as a surprise to Capt. Derek Thornton’s family when he decided to pursue a career as an engineer. What they didn’t know was that he was determined to serve as an Army officer in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Now an operations manager with the district’s Navigation Branch, Thornton was a natural candidate to lead a project along the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway. Thornton and his team are working to gather data that will assist in mapping the GIWW to ensure that dredging operations can be conducted safely.

“I wanted to join the Corps my entire military career,” said Thornton. “I first learned about the Corps’ mission during my officer’s basic course and even before my commissioning I knew I wanted to be part of the Corps.”

With only 90 days on the job, Thornton says that he’s already enjoying the challenge of his new position.

“There is a steep learning curve here,” said Thornton. “Before I came to Galveston I had little experience with maritime operations. However, the people here are really helping me understand the district’s mission and goals. Working in the Corps has surpassed my expectations.”

The road to working for the Corps hasn’t been easy. Nearly a decade in the making, Thornton served two deployments to combat zones in Iraq (2005-2006) and Afghanistan (2008-2009) and four assignments before transferring to the USACE Galveston District.

“I spent 12 months in Iraq as a construction platoon leader,” said Thornton. “We were responsible for building large command information centers under tight deadlines and working in extreme heat.”

While managing construction projects are never easy, Thornton says he gained invaluable leadership skills that he applied in Afghanistan when he served as a brigade battle captain.

Serving out of his professional career field as an engineer wasn’t the only exceptional circumstance he experienced while deployed to Afghanistan. He had the chance to serve on the same base as his father – an Army intelligence officer.

“We were posted a half-mile apart and there were nights we would get dinner together,” said Thornton. “He was busy but we made the most of it. Serving with my father was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

With his deployments behind him, Thornton says that each Army assignment has afforded him multiple opportunities to gain leadership experience that he will apply in his position as a manager within the USACE Galveston District and as a mentor to junior Soldiers in his future commands.

A native of Fort Benning, Ga., Thornton earned a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the Colorado School of Mines. While in school, he was recognized by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association as a Division II All-American Athlete in the indoor 4x400-meter relay in 2004. His military awards include the Meritorious Service Medal (two oak leafs), the Army Commendation Medal (two oak leafs), the Army Achievement Medal and a French Commendation Medal.

To learn more about the USACE Galveston District, visit Find us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter,