Colonel Donald Ohlemacher joined the AFIT team as the Dean of The Civil Engineer (CE) School in July 2017. He is responsible for delivering technical, environmental, and engineering management focused Professional Continuing Education to 5,500 military and civilian members each year as well as providing the Initial Skills Training for all newly commissioned Civil Engineer officers.
It is a bit of a homecoming for Ohlemacher; “I have been to AFIT many times for education. I probably spent 16 weeks at AFIT over the first 6 years of my Air Force career. I like to think of the School as the home of the Civil Engineer officer because we keep coming back for continuing education,” said Ohlemacher.
Originally from Sandusky, Ohio, he was raised on a farm with a marsh where the family ran guided hunting operations. Active in 4-H, Ohlemacher spent time helping neighbors milking cows and bailing hay. “It was a community effort. All the kids in the township would rally to support the farmers because that was their whole existence. It was an upbringing that made me strong, made me resilient, and made me successful,” said Ohlemacher.
For college, Colonel Ohlemacher went to the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado. He initially wanted to be a pilot, but the values he learned growing up on a farm were in his blood. He chose the Civil Engineering career field where he could do engineering design and construction work. “It was the right decision. I have enjoyed my career and I still think it was the best way I could serve my country. If I had to do it over again, I would do it the same way,” said Ohlemacher.
As a career Civil Engineer officer, Colonel Ohlemacher has over 14 years’ experience working in various positions in Base Civil Engineer offices across four Major Commands and four years’ experience in staff officer positions at Major Command and Headquarters Air Force levels. Colonel Ohlemacher has deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan in support of Overseas Contingency Operations and the Afghanistan-Pakistan HAND program.
In 2011, Ohlemacher served as Commander of the 49th Civil Engineer Squadron at Holloman AFB in New Mexico. “Everyone will tell you that nothing beats a command assignment. It was a great assignment. I had an excellent squadron – it was a big CE squadron with a lot of unique mission sets. We ended up being recognized as the best CE squadron in the Air Force while I was in command.”
But the assignment where he was challenged the most was as Operations Flight Commander of the 99th Civil Engineer Squadron at Nellis AFB, Nevada. “I grew as a leader more in that assignment than any place I had been before,” said Ohlemacher. In 2006, the Air Force was ramping up the ground fight in Iraq and Afghanistan and Nellis was bringing in a variety of mission sets for war fighting. “It was a high pressure job trying to keep people happy with limited resources – sometimes our manpower would be below 30% because of deployments. I promoted to Lt Col the day I left that unit – it was a very proud day because of all we had been through – it was some of the toughest challenges I have ever faced and I learned how to persevere and fight through a lot of different circumstances.”
In his current role, Colonel Ohlemacher is focused on using his operational mindset to ensure the CE school stays vital, relevant, and connected. Decisions by Air Force leaders to invest in modernizing the aircraft fleet and advancing joint warfighting domains comes at the expense of installations. “As we go forward in today’s Air Force, where resources are less and we are trying to modernize and remain relevant in the 5th generation of warfighting - and as our enemies are getting more advanced – how engineers support installations has to change,” said Ohlemacher. “Civil engineers give a lot to supporting installations. We have to create a generation of new leaders to face these challenges and that is why we have a civil engineer school. We bring the officers, enlisted, and civilians back to AFIT to learn how to operate in the enterprise and develop them into better leaders to lead us in a new direction.”
General of the Air Force, and aviation pioneer, Henry “Hap” Arnold once said, “Air bases are a determining factor in the success of air operations. The two-legged stool of men and planes would topple over without this equally important third leg.” The CE School’s technical, environmental, and engineering management focused courses provide the skills specific to the vital third leg. Under the leadership of Colonel Ohlemacher, AFIT’s CE School will continue to ensure the Air Force’s Civil Engineers are prepared to plan, construct, and operate air bases - at home and abroad - enabling Air Force war fighting platforms.