US Army Corps of Engineers
Memphis District

Chong-Ae Schmidt

Position: Motor Vessel MISSISSIPPI Deckhand 
Date hired/promoted: Sept. 5, 2017 
Supervisor's Name: Aaron Kirk 
Hometown: An-Seong city, Kyonggi-Do, South Korea

What do you do in your position, and why is it important to the people we serve?

I’m a deckhand on the Motor Vessel (MV) MISSISSIPPI. I ensure the entire boat is ready to accomplish the mission. I have an owner’s mentality—it’s my boat. I’m proud to be a part of the USACE team and to support the other crew members in accomplishing the mission. When I accomplish this, I feel very satisfied and important.

How did you become part of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and why?

I grew up in South Korea. At age 13, our English class studied Tom Sawyer books which made me wonder how it would feel to be on the Mississippi River and see how it runs. It was just a dream and I never thought it would come true. At age 7, I went to Lake Wonchun in South Korea for the first time on a picnic with my family. I felt I was in heaven. I felt peaceful and calm. I wished I could keep that moment forever. 

At age 24, I came to America being married to a man from Davenport, Iowa. He became a Merchant Marine Engineer working for Alter Barge Line in Bettendorf, Iowa. He knew I loved being on the river, so he helped me with many of my questions. I had a chance to work on the Water Taxi as a deckhand during my college years. The more I worked on the river, the more I felt close to my hometown in South Korea and my childhood fond memory of peacefulness would return. So, I changed my College major. Instead of pursuing counseling, I became a senior deckhand while working on the Water Taxi in Moline, Illinois in 2015. I wanted to be a captain on the boat to get closer to the river and still live my fond childhood memory. Being on the river is very therapeutic and makes me feel alive. 

My husband got a job with the Memphis District in June 2014. He had to travel the long distance between work and home for three years. It was a long and hard drive for him so I moved here. Since Tom is working at the Memphis District, I wondered if I could work here as a deckhand as a pathway to reach my dream of someday becoming a captain.  

I prefer to work close to my husband. God really answered my prayer because quite often marriages suffer in the marine industry because couples don’t see enough of each other. I’m so blessed to work at the USACE Memphis District to re-live my childhood memory and see my loving husband at work.

What do you see as the most important points in your career with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and why?

I am very proud to be a member of the USACE team and to support the Mississippi River Commission mission of taking care of the river. I hope my children will remember what I did to make a difference for my country. I am proud to be a U.S. citizen participating in government work. I hope the next generation will proudly say USACE made a difference by making the river safe and was a benefit to the citizens.

What’s the greatest satisfaction you have in being a part of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers?

My greatest satisfaction in being a part of the USACE team is it gives me an opportunity to serve my country with honor. I am making a difference by doing my best in contributing to the USACE mission.

What advice would you give to someone who aspires to a career or position like yours?

I encourage anyone with a heart to be on the river to reach for their dream. Anything is possible if you put your heart into making your dream reality with the right mind set.

Can you name a particular mentor or mentors who helped you in your career? How did they help you? Have you been a mentor?

I worked six months on the Mat Loading Unit before transferring to the MV MISSISSIPPI. My former supervisor, Kenny Burden, is a mentor to me. He encouraged me to excel and be myself at work. He is a Christian who seeks to help everyone and provides positive motivation every day at work. Whenever I had difficulties, he gave me wise advice to overcome the obstacles. I can proudly say he is my mentor. Because of the way he helped me, I want to pass that forward to anyone who seeks my help.