The Memphis District and Chasteen family recently lost a beloved member to a hard-fought battle with cancer. Darian Chasteen, who most recently held the Hydraulics and Hydrology Branch Deputy Chief title, passed away on May 7, 2021. While no longer physically with us, his legacy will forever live on.
Chasteen served more than 30 years with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Memphis District. During that time, he made many friends and touched numerous lives. In honor of his life and the contributions he made, we take a look back at his life, happy and thankful to have known such a person.
Chasteen was born and raised in Memphis, Tennessee. He earned a Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Memphis. He was also a Registered Professional Engineer in the state of Tennessee.
Darian married his wife Leanne in 1988. They had two children, Spencer and Ashley, and two granddaughters, Lucy and London.
Chasteen served in a number of positions with the Memphis District, beginning his career with the Corps as a summer hire student in 1987 while attending the University of Memphis.
During that time, he worked in the River Stabilization Section in the former Engineering Division. Upon graduation, Chasteen began his professional career in the private sector in August of 1990. He worked in River Stabilization until he was promoted to a senior engineering position in the Geotechnical Design Section in 1994.
Later in 1999, Chasteen was promoted to River Engineering Section Chief, where he thrived for nearly 20 years. It was under his leadership that River Engineering reshaped navigation on the Mighty Mississippi River.
Chasteen was recognized on many occasions throughout his career, but of special note, he was awarded the Bronze de Fleury Medal on Dec. 1, 2020.
In true Chasteen fashion, his medal presentation was extraordinary. On the day he received the medal, Chasteen began his day like any other. But he had no idea the plans and coordination that took place months in advance to make possible what was about to happen.
Then at approximately 9:30 in the morning, with a ring of the doorbell, Chasteen answered the door to a smiling Memphis District Commander, Col. Zachary Miller, 45 of his colleagues and friends, several people with cameras, and a visual information specialist with a video camera, livestreaming the occasion.
Mississippi River Commissioner James Reeder even joined the gathering, making the ceremony that much more special. The expression on Chasteen’s face was priceless, and one of the feelings he exuded matched that of what he made others feel his entire life -- gratitude.
Naturally, Chasteen was recognized for his superior and selfless service to the Corps, using unique engineering skills to address major challenges with impeccable integrity and exceptional professionalism, to say the least.
Receiving a superior medal like the Bronze de Fluery is an honor, but it just isn’t enough for such a special person. And so, on May 14 of this year, a Memphis District survey vessel was renamed the “M/V Chasteen”.
Previously known as the M/V Sweep and M/V Tigershark, the vessel has been in service for over 20 years. The M/V Chasteen has been and will be the primary tool used to collect discharge measurements on the Mississippi River and obtain multi-beam sweep surveys for channel improvement projects.
According to Hydraulics and Hydrology Branch Chief Mike Clay, this vessel is critical to knowing what work must be done on the Mississippi River, as well as getting that work completed.
“… it’s important for actually completing the work during construction phases,” Clay continued. “Darian saw the need for this type of technology and worked through getting the specialized equipment and personnel to make this capability a reality. Over the 20 years of service that the M/V Chasteen and its predecessor have served the district, Darian was the key proponent to make sure we had these incredible assets to best serve our navigation, ecosystem stewardship, and flood risk management missions.”
“Finally, while the motor vessel will never be as valuable as Darian’s expertise and service, the M/V Chasteen will be an enduring asset that was made possible by his foresight,” Clay added.
To celebrate the renaming, the district will hold a dedication ceremony after Chasteen’s celebration of life service, which is scheduled for June 5.
While he may be gone, Chasteen’s legacy will remain forever through his friends’ and family members’ storytelling. The following is a collection of memories put together by his colleagues/friends, who, by the sound of it, will never forget him or the impact he made:
“Darian went out of his way to teach me a great deal about river engineering, navigation, and channel improvement missions so that I could write intelligently about it,” Ken Williams said. “He always made time to patiently answer my many questions. He is greatly missed.”
“Darian was an ideal leader. He was a humble man of integrity and a patient teacher,” Cole Stonebrook began. “He never cut corners and he always pushed his team out of their comfort zone because he knew it would make them stronger. He was a "father" figure to many younger engineers who knew he expected their best but also knew that he had their back at all times. He loved his family beyond measure and deeply cared for the families of his team. He was forward thinking and always open to new ideas. He was a loyal friend. He understood the importance of his work and fostered a lighthearted, fun work environment. He would not back down from confrontation and stood for truth. He was quick to forgive, held no grudges, and would admit fault if he was wrong. He took deep pride in his team and the work being done. He was highly respected and trusted by others because of his vast knowledge, experience, and sound character. Many who have worked under Darian's leadership turned down countless promotions and other opportunities because they knew that he was different. The team environment was special and meaningful. He meant so much to all of us and his legacy will continue through everyone he worked with.”
“Darian was one of the most capable engineers and superb supervisors I have ever had the privilege of working with,” Mike Clay said. “In just a few moments of thoughtful consideration, Darian could eliminate the need for thousands of dollars and months of analysis. His opinion was respected more than a stack of textbooks, and for good reason. Darian created one of the lowest maintenance, most reliably navigable 355 miles of the Mississippi River. As a river engineer, he has no equal. As a supervisor, Darian is who I aim to emulate. Every team he led worked together, accomplished great things, and loves him to this day. Whether it was engineers and technicians or convicts on work release, he invested in the people around him. His example of leadership is the rare mixture of confidence and humility that brings lasting success for the team and each individual. In every way, Darian’s words and actions demonstrated respect and love for those around him. My very first conversation and my very last conversation on this earth with Darian was focused on how to care for the people around him. This level of caring is not human. Darian always redirected praise regarding his great talent, strength, endurance, and ingenuity to Christ, the source of his super-human abilities. I miss him, for now, but know I will see him again.”
“I have been blessed to work with Darian since he came to work over 30 years ago,” Chip Newman started. “In 1994, Darian decided to change his career path and come to work in Geotech. We developed a close friendship that has lasted throughout our careers. We have worked together on many critical projects including all the revetment work on the river, Hickman Bluff, and DMORT after Katrina hit, just to mention a few, along with many other projects. Darian was a competitor, whether playing volleyball at Engineers Day, to the soccer fields, to riding fast motorcycles, to restoring antique trucks and cars. He possessed tremendous skill and heart at all he did. If I picked a word to describe Darian, it would be true. He showed us the right way to love, live, work, and treat others. I already miss him terribly. I know though he is cancer free and with his brother now.”
“I’ll never forget the first day I got there -- I met with DC and we were throwing sandbags with the Fulton County Inmates aka ‘Soggy Bottom Boys’,” Jake Storz remembered. “They brought lunch from the prison for everyone to eat so Darian and I grabbed a sack lunch. We opened it up and realized that the bologna/ham product on the sandwich was some weird, stringy, half-processed substance. At that point we didn’t want to offend the Soggy Bottom Boys who had already scarfed down their sandwiches, so we did everything we could to eat it. One of the guys came up to us afterwards and said they were all watching to see if we would actually eat the sandwich and that the packaging it comes in says “For Animal and Institution Use Only”. Darian treated each of those guys like they were his best friend and they did the same with him. He even went back and helped work with the guys to get some time off their sentences and gave one of them (Woody) a wedding gift (money) so he could call his newly wedded wife while he was still in prison. He always said we wouldn’t have passed the flood without them. He made us all feel like family in that office. Even if I had to do something miserable at work, he made it fun. And if he said something would work, I would never second guess him.”
“It’s hard for me to put into words everything that Darian means to our River Engineering family (past and present), the Memphis District, and to me personally,” Zach Cook said. “Darian brought me into River Engineering at the beginning of my career as a young engineering intern. He trained me as a river engineer and helped me learn all the technical skills needed to be a successful design engineer. He helped me understand the nuances of how the Mighty Mississippi could be guided along her course to perform our great mission of safe and dependable navigation and flood risk management on the river. He mentored me and helped me develop a great love and respect for the river and to take pride in the successful work we do. I have more fond memories of our time together (over 15 years) in River Engineering than I can count as I progressed through the years up until I became the Channel Improvement Project Manager. Once I became a Project Manager, he provided me with professional courtesy, respect, and valued my input. He also offered me technical experiences and expertise while helping me execute the Channel Improvement project for the district. Darian was the embodiment of a true professional engineer all around. On a personal level, he was always so patient, encouraging, and loving while guiding and providing me with sound advice for my career advancement. The same applied to my personal edification being a husband, father, and a Christian. We were his extended family and he was like a big brother/father to the entire team. His influence and impact on the Memphis District is far reaching with many of the current leadership positions having worked for him and with him directly. His handprints and legacy on the Memphis District, the extended Regional Channel Improvement Team within the Mississippi Valley Division, and the Army Corps is cemented and will last for many years. I love Darian greatly and will miss him very much! One memorable thing about Darian was his work. He was always cool, calm, and collected when working with others and dealing with problem solving and conflict. But on the other hand, if you worked around him enough, you knew that you didn’t want to get on his wrong side and get, ‘Chasteenized!’”
“People always talk about what a great person someone was after they’re gone, but in this case, there are no more sincerer words,” Jennifer Redden began. “Darian was more than a supervisor – he was a mentor, friend, and confidante. You’ve heard the expression, “He would give the shirt off of his back.” That is the person that Darian was. I had known Darian for a long time, but really got to know him during the Hurricane Katrina response. He was assigned the daunting job of building a temporary mortuary facility – a task that was pretty morbid and depressing, but DC took it in stride and did an excellent job. He always had that “can do” attitude that took him far in his career. He had a fun-loving attitude and an infectious smile. Words cannot express how much I will miss Darian!”
“Our Big Brother from another Mother… really great memories,” Lawrence Thomas (LT) recalled. “The first of three moments that come to my mind is our trip on the G3 in 2007 to conduct a site visit with the Fabritex Contractor. Darian said to me on the tarmac, “Hey, here comes a G3, let’s try to bum a ride!” which is why I’m throwing up a thumb. He was a big brother equally to Regina Kuykendoll Cash being my big sister. Together, they stayed on me and made sure I focused on my studies at the U of M -- they made sure I graduated with my engineering degree. Darian was a big brother to all of us and took care of us (River Engineering) like an extended family. Each moment in his presence was a blessing because he would always lift you up. It was truly a hard decision to leave River Engineering because of my fear of never finding/landing in an organization that embodied the family atmosphere we shared. Second is the Christmas parties; we always had plenty of love, laughter, and food. Last, but not least, Darian and Harvey “Pete” Peterson and the 2006 Superbowl. Darian ended up the winner as he was a Colts fan and Pete was a Bears fan. He would not let it go that they were the champions.”
“His nickname was “Arms” in high school because of his guns….” Andrew Smothers remembered.
And finally, Nick Bidlack reminisced, “I worked closely with Darian during flood fights up in Reelfoot-Obion flood fight area. During 2011, Darian’s leadership and professionalism had a significant impact on me and continues to throughout my career. Ever since that time in the trenches with the Soggy Bottom Boys, I have looked up to Darian both professionally and personally. He is one of the best! He always knew how to work hard and have fun while doing it.”
While many of Chasteen’s friends left beautiful remarks to remind us of the good times shared, there are no words to truly comfort anyone during such a time of loss. All that can be done is live in his honor – to remember what he taught us and to emulate the positivity, leadership, and greatness he radiated so effortlessly.
We remember not only what he did for our nation, but what he did for others; for his “people”. Any time Darian crosses the mind, smile. Be grateful to have known him, glad to have worked alongside and for him, and thankful knowing that he is now fully at peace.