What does it take to protect our country? Often Americans focus on the more salient and recognizable functions the military men and women who serve our country perform – combat roles, diplomacy and defensive measures. But effective military strategy relies on more than just the men and women who serve in these positions. As with any successful team, in order to excel, a number of vital, interdependent parts work together to ensure the highest level of functioning – and in the military, one of the most crucial and often overlooked of these jobs is that of the engineer.

Why is their role so crucial? Because it provides the infrastructure and support for all other functions designed and carried out by our military. These men and women work on critical projects associated with dam, canal and flood protection in the US, as well as a wide range of public works projects through the world (1, 2). So vital is the role, the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) employs over 37,000 civilians and soldiers. Working on engineering jobs in over 130 countries worldwide, the USACE is one of the world’s largest public engineering, design, and construction management agencies (1, 2).

NCI is proud to employ members of the armed services, and recently welcomed back home one of its own. Project Engineer Daniel J. Griest was deployed as a Civil Engineer for the 791st EN DET FEST-A (Engineer Detachment Forward Engineer Support Team – Advanced) in Iraq from September of 2017 to June of 2018, and served in the Army Reserve as a Combat Engineer on the Corps of Engineers Team Military. Working on site assessments, development, construction management and design in areas off limits to civilians, he proudly served his country for 9 months before returning to his job at NCI. He currently has 6 years of military service.

We caught up with Mr. Griest and learned more about his time in the service, and what it is like to serve as a civil engineer in the army. Read on to find out more!


  1. CSPAN. (2018). U.S. Army Corps of Engineers | C-SPAN.org. Retrieved from https://www.c-span.org/organization/?53519/Army-Corps-Engineers
  2. US Army Corps of Engineers. (2018, May 30). About — Headquarters U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Retrieved from https://www.usace.army.mil/About.aspx
Daniel J. Griest, EI

Daniel J. Griest, EI

Project Engineer

Education: BS, Civil Engineering, The University of Dayton, Dayton, Ohio, 2012

Professional Registrations: Engineer in Training (EI)

Service: Unites States Army Reserve 2012-2018

Years of Experience:
Total - 5
With NCI - 5

As a project engineer, Mr. Griest has been involved in a number of transportation projects and specializes in the areas of roadway design, drainage, traffic control, maintenance of traffic, and right-of-way design.  On past projects for ODOT and other local agencies he has completed services for every phase of the design process; from topographic survey and establishment of the existing conditions to development of the final design plans. Mr. Griest also has experience with surveying and has performed topographic, supplemental, drainage, construction staking, and GPS surveys.

In his free time Mr. Griest enjoys spending time with family and friends. He enjoys watching movies and playing board games. He is currently working on studying for the PE and hopes to sit for the Exam next year.

An Interview with Dan

What made you want to join the military?

My father was in the air force, and growing up watching him serve instilled in me a desire to follow in his footsteps.  Then 9/11 cemented the idea.

What does a combat engineer do?

The design side for the Army is a lot different than being a combat engineer. The easiest explanation is in the army there are 3 main types of “engineers.” The first type, Combat Engineers are responsible for clearing obstacles or creating obstacles.  Horizontal Engineers are responsible for excavation, and Vertical Engineers are responsible for constructing buildings. The team I was on for my deployment is actually part of the US Army Corp of Engineers and they typically only take soldiers who have degrees in engineering. The teams don’t always just have military members on them but in a combat environment military can move more freely than civilians can.

Where were you working? How did the conditions differ from working in the US?

I was working on projects everywhere in Iraq. When we first arrived on site, everything was designed to the Army’s temporary design standards – basically designing structures to last for 2-5 years. Near the end of the deployment we shifted to 5-10 years for a semi-permanent set up. We used all the same standards currently used in the US, unless they didn’t apply.   For example, frost depth design and handicap ramps.

More specifically, how does the engineering work you did in the military differ from what you do at NCI, how is it similar? Do you use similar software/protocol or are there large differences?

Prior to the deployment, I had never done design for the inside of buildings and being involved in the actual contract award process was a new experience for me.  We used a Design Bid/Design Build process set up for contractors and for US troops.  This means we would do about a 90% plan set and adjust as needed to complete construction. Due to my experience at NCI, I continued the push for surveys of job sites before design and construction. We had access to every design program that has been published and we chose to use what was familiar to us, which was AutoCAD and Revit.

Can you talk about some of the most unique projects you worked on?

Unfortunately I cannot speak on specifics because projects which are still under construction are sensitive information. However, working in a transition environment proved some unique issues.  The teams are only deployed for 9 months and we would get questions on projects that go as far back as 2 teams.  We would have to conduct research on the rationale for decision making and provide answers to these questions.  This was challenging because there is only a week transition time between the teams and since we are all in the Reserves, reach back is difficult sometimes.

What would you say to someone interested in joining the military as a Civil Engineer? Any advice for high school students?

It depends on what you want to do.  I was very fortunate and was able to deploy and use my degree as a civil engineer. In my Army schooling the FEST team was skimmed over very quickly because it is such a small part of the Army Engineers, and you can’t progress your military career very easily in it but it is doable.  For the high school students if you are interested in joining the Army, there are Officers, Warrant Officers, and Enlisted.  Officers make decisions, do paper work, and are responsible for everyone they are leading.  Starting out as a 2nd LT. that is about +/-30 people. Warrant Officers have a specialized skill and are experts in their fields. Enlisted are the ones who do the work.  So again I say it all depends on what you want to do but the Army has opportunities for everyone.

What are the best/worst parts of being in the army?

The best part is the Army is a giant family. You can’t go anywhere without running into someone who was where you were and you will always have a group of friends wherever you go. It doesn’t matter what branch of service. You share a bond that most people would not understand.   The worst part is there is never enough time in the day to complete the mission tasks. My only complaint is there isn’t enough time in a day.

How have you changed as a function of your service – e.g., did you see your time as beneficial to your professional growth and what did you learn that will enhance your skills?

I was very introverted growing up and the military made me come out of my shell and talk to people. I would not do anything differently. I have enjoyed my time in the military and though I am ready to be done it was a great experience. Networking is very important and it is something the military helped teach me for use in my professional life. You have to get out and talk to the people who are in charge and learn from them.  I also learned that engineering is a big career field, but also a small one.  You have to be careful when you disagree because you never know when you may have to work with someone again.  It’s about making strong professional relationships and connections.

Any other things you think would be important for people/students to know!

It sounds very cheesy but never quit, never surrender. You are human you are going to make mistakes. Learn from it, move one, and improve.

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Inspired by Daniel’s story? Explore the links below to see some of the ways you can give back and support America’s active duty troops and veterans.

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