21 May Owner Profile: J.D. Freeman
J.D. Freeman tackles a variety of water and wastewater projects as an engineer and project manager in the Utilities Department. Plus he’s one of the nicest people at WithersRavenel. But did you know that he is a former Public Works Director for a North Carolina town? And that he is a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy? Let’s get to know more about J.D. in his Owner Profile.
What does a typical workday look like for you?
Usually I get up early, start my day around 7 so I can get 30-40 minutes in before getting the kids up and getting them ready for school. I dive back in after that. Before COVID, I’d say it was about half the time in the office doing work and paperwork and half in the field at project sites or with clients, but it’s probably been more 75/25 (less in the field and meeting with clients) during COVID.
Tell us about a memorable project you’ve worked on at WithersRavenel.
I’d say the Red Springs USDA Water Treatment Plant project, which also includes water distribution and wellhouse improvements. The whole process of working with USDA and their requirements has been a bit of a learning curve. But just being able to provide a benefit to a town like Red Springs who otherwise could not afford the improvements, I’ve enjoyed doing that.
What is an aspect of your job as a professional engineer that you didn’t expect to be so important?
Writing papers and reports. Easily. Bar none. One of the reasons I became an engineer was because I didn’t like writing paper and reports. Lo and behold, that is what engineers do. But I have become more skilled at writing reports. I won’t say I enjoy it, but it’s not as terrifying.
What made you decide to go to the Air Force Academy?
I wanted to fly airplanes and be the best fighter pilot they had. And play football. I started pilot training by flying gliders. I also took SERE training (Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape) where they drop you off in the woods for a week with a knife, a map, and a rabbit. You have to survive out in the woods while people are chasing you. That was really fun, I actually had a blast doing that. But my eyes weren’t good enough to ultimately be a pilot, and I hurt my shoulder playing football. When it was time to pick majors, one of the things about civil engineering was we got to drive bulldozers in the summer at the camps we went to.
Did you say “a knife, a map, and a rabbit?”
Yes. The SERE training, there are “bad guys” chasing you, and if they catch you, they put you in a POW camp. You’re learning survival skills to simulate an airplane getting shot down. They drop you off in the middle of nowhere in groups of four. And we ate the rabbit. They give you a map, and there are safe houses to get to without getting caught. I loved it, I grew up on the farm and played around in the woods my whole life, so this was all me. I grew up hunting rabbits and eating them, so that was not a hurdle to overcome.
Another interesting Air Force story: I was in Korea on a summer program with the Air Force squadron there when I found out I couldn’t fly anymore. They felt bad for me, so this one commander took me up in an F-16, so I got to fly around the ocean for about an hour. That was the one little bit of flying I got to do. It was a really good time.
How does your past experience serving as a public works director (for the Town of Carrboro) help you in your current role?
Knowing the problems that municipalities and public works directors and staff are going through. It helps having that direct knowledge of their operations and issues that they see and what needs to be overcome. Also, you understand the aspect of dealing with the public. There are intricacies to that part of the process as well.
What do you look forward to most at the end of each workday?
I always try to have, even if it is something small, something that I have accomplished that day. It’s easy to get caught up in the thousands of tasks we have in our pocket and not fully accomplish some of those tasks. It’s easy to get to the end of the day and say, “Boy, I was busy all day, but what did I do?” Just being able to identify accomplishable tasks gives me a feeling of satisfaction at the end of the day.
Personally, I look forward to being able to disconnect after work and doing something with my wife (Leigh) and girls (Sophie, 11, and Lenora, 8). Working from home and just having that extra time where you don’t have to travel is a benefit, too.