Some college students look forward to a relaxing summer away from studies and hanging out with friends and having fun. Cadet Leo Puntillo, a member of the Reserve Officers Training Corps at the University of Minnesota had other, more productive plans. ROTC prepares college students to become officers in the U.S. Armed Forces. ROTC students can earn a university degree tuition-free in exchange for an agreement to join the military after graduation.
Puntillo decided to take advantage of the ROTC’s Engineering Internship Program (EIP) and traveled to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and spend a month in July to learn about engineering in the U.S. Army.
“I had not looked much into engineering in the Army before the internship, so I decided to do it as a way to learn about something in the Army I knew almost nothing about,” he said.
Capt. Jeremy Liker, recently assigned to the New England District, said that the District annually receives one or two cadets as part of the internship. The program is run by the U.S. Army Cadet Command with cooperation and partnership with USACE. Liker and Capt. Sarah Hoyt served as Puntillo’s supervisors during his time with the District.
“We were both responsible for Cadet Puntillo’s health, morale and well-being while assigned to NAE,” said Liker.
Liker said Capt. Briana Karanopolis created the cadet’s itinerary before she left for another assignment, and he and Hoyt used that itinerary as a learning foundation for Puntillo’s time at the District.
“Outside of the itinerary originally planned, Capt. Hoyt and I shared our experiences in the Army,” he said. “We taught him what he should expect once he becomes a newly commissioned officer of 2nd Lieutenant and what he should expect as a platoon leader.”
Puntillo was impressed with everything he was learning.
“USACE has one of the most unique mission sets of any unit in the Army I’ve ever seen,” he said. “The overwhelming civilian presence in USACE makes it one of the only units in the Army that directly impacts regular Americans to such a degree.”
Puntillo said the wide variety of missions he learned about highlighted just how many necessary functions USACE provided for both the U.S. Government and the American people. Both captains were new to the New England District as well and took the opportunity to not only mentor Puntillo, but to learn about USACE and all its operations.
“I had no idea how diverse USACE’s mission is and with that the diverse background of professionals in the District alone,” he said. “USACE is a big part of the Engineer Branch of the Army that a small percentage of green suiters get exposure too. It is also very incredible how much recreational land the Corps owns as part of project sites and the amount of tourism it receives from the local communities.”
During his internship, Puntillo got to visit some of the District’s projects. His favorite? Ball Mountain Dam. Although recent flooding left the project in need of clean-up, Puntillo said the Vermont project was still overwhelmingly beautiful.
“The scale of those mountains and the scenery was eye-opening to a mid-Westerner,” he said.
Puntillo said although he enjoyed touring the District’s projects, the best part of his internship was meeting and working with the New England District team.
“I thoroughly enjoyed meeting all the staff at NAE and receiving the great mentorship from Captains Liker and Hoyt,” he said.
Puntillo has returned to the University of Minnesota and is now a senior. When he graduates, he will receive his commission and move to a new unit in the U.S. Army Reserves as a 2nd Lieutenant. Puntillo believes that spending part of his summer in New England was time well spent. He was able to learn about the role engineering plays in the U.S. Army and the wide range of possibilities it holds for civilians and soldiers alike.
“Thank you to Col. Atilano, Col. Pabis and all the staff for letting a young cadet spend time at NAE! It was a fantastic summer!”