FORT HAMILTON, N.Y. (March 15, 2023) – Anela Arcari, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers North Atlantic Division chief of staff, knew exactly what she wanted to be by the time she was 13. Growing up, Arcari was a military brat. By the age of 12, she had lived more than half of her life outside of the United States, having the opportunity to live in Germany and travel to major European cities, doing things other kids her age had “never seen, never heard, never done.”
When she moved back to the states, the change in environment helped her come to her decision.
“I was coming into a small community where the kids had all been together since they were in kindergarten,” Arcari said. “I very much felt like an outsider at that point, and I realized that I saw the Army as a family, an extension of my family. It was when I was in eighth grade when I made the decision ‘I think I want to serve in the military. I want to go in the Army.’”
She attended Norwich University, a private military college in Vermont, and majored in civil engineering, also receiving a three-year Reserve Officers’ Training Corps scholarship.
“My father calls [civil engineers] ‘simple civils,’ but we’re kind of jacks of all trades,” Arcari said. “There’s a lot of things that we do, so that’s one of the reasons why I chose it. It seemed like there was a lot of opportunities within civil engineering.”
When it finally came time to serve, Arcari began her service with the Corps of Engineers, which was already familiar to her because her father had been a USACE officer with a degree in mechanical engineering.
“The decision to pursue civil engineering and join the Corps of Engineers made him very proud,” Arcari said. “I think that he would have been proud of anything that I did, but I think there was an extra set of pride that came with me following in his footsteps.”
Her first duty assignment was with a construction battalion at Fort Carson, Colorado. While there, she had the opportunity to deploy twice, once to Somalia and another to Haiti.
“Both were really amazing growing and leadership opportunities,” Arcari said. “I don’t know how many other professions there are that you can be responsible for 38 people at age 22 and millions of dollars of equipment and go into a hostile environment. If you haven’t grown up before then, you grow up really fast in that environment and, obviously, you’ve got great noncommissioned officers who are supporting you.”
Arcari mainly oversaw base camp construction earlier in her career, sometimes also performing road construction and motor pool and parking lot construction.
“It was mostly expedient, quick construction,” Arcari said. “To come in with all that equipment and all those soldiers and just work and do that, it was quite rewarding to kind of see it from start to finish and feel like we made a difference.”
Later, her assignments at USACE’s Philadelphia and Europe Districts, as well as deployments to Kuwait and Afghanistan, offered her opportunities to work on major construction projects, including police stations, barracks, a range and an engineering school.
Arcari served in the Army for just over 28 years before she retired as a lieutenant colonel at the end of 2019, saying she didn’t originally plan to stay in that long.
“I did feel confident that I would stay twenty years,” Arcari said. “And I always said I would stay as long as I was enjoying it and so I continued to enjoy it, and I continued to stay.”
Retiring was a “significant emotional event” for Arcari.
“There would be a grieving and a mourning period,” Arcari said. “… From the day I was born until I retired, I was associated and with the Army. I had a huge identity with the military. I consciously made a decision to hire a life coach at that point to help me make that transition as smooth as possible.”
She intended to travel for a year after her retirement, but the COVID-19 pandemic drew it out to two years, spending time in between Hawaii and with her parents in Connecticut. It was around this time Arcari learned of the open position for chief of staff at NAD.
“I wasn’t looking for it,” Arcari said. “In fact, when I retired, I said, ‘I don’t know that I’m going back into a brick-and-mortar building.’ I really didn’t imagine that I’d come back to work 9 to 5. But because of the organization, the people, the location, I was like, ‘yeah, I can totally do this.’”
“I have really enjoyed NAD from the perspective of it being a coming home of sorts for me, because I had previously served at both Philadelphia District and Europe District,” Arcari said. “Now, six months into it, I kind of feel like I’ve got my feet on the ground, so I’m also beginning to really enjoy the job itself.”
Arcari looked back on her career so far, saying she is very proud of all the opportunities she’s had.
“I did not envision when I made the decision to go into the military it would take me all the places that it took me, and when I retired, I also did not envision having an opportunity to come back and work for an organization I absolutely love, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers,” she said. “Starting out as a second lieutenant to where I am now, I’m thrilled and honored, and I definitely have enjoyed it; I look forward seeing where this takes me.”