Brigadier General John S. Kem assumed command of the Northwestern Division, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, on July 15, 2013. In this position, he oversees an annual program of more than $3 billion in civil works, environmental restoration, and military construction in more than a dozen states, primarily within the Columbia and Missouri river basins.
As Division Commander, he is responsible for providing guidance and direction to five operating district commands located in Portland, Ore., Seattle, Wash., Walla Walla, Wash., Kansas City, Mo., and Omaha, Neb., with a combined professional workforce of over 5,000. Key missions include managing the nation’s water resources infrastructure for economic growth and environmental sustainability, timely response to natural disasters, support to military installations and civilian communities throughout the region, and strengthening national security.
Brig Gen Kem was born in Chicago and commissioned in the U.S. Army after graduating in 1985 as a distinguished cadet from the U.S. Military Academy with a Bachelor of Science degree in civil engineering. As a junior officer, he served in the 16th Engineer Battalion, 1st Armored Division and in the 1st Squadron, 1st US Cavalry as the Patrol Leader for the VII Corps team that won the 1988 Boeselager NATO Cavalry Cup. From 1989 to 1993 he served in the 307th Engineer Battalion, 82nd Airborne Division, including service during Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm.
From 1993 to 1995, Brig. Gen. Kem attended the Kellogg Business School, Northwestern University with follow-on duty as an assistant professor of economics in the Department of Social Sciences at West Point. From 1998 to 2000, he served as the S3, 10th Engineer Battalion at Fort Stewart, Ga., and later as the Engineer Brigade S3. In 2001, he was selected for a Congressional Fellowship and served for one year as a staff fellow on the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee, Subcommittees on Defense and Military Construction, followed by service as a Congressional Budget Liaison in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army (Financial Management and Comptroller).
From June 2003 to June 2005, he commanded the 16th Armored Engineer Battalion, 1st Armored Division, and led the battalion for 13 months during combat operations in Baghdad and Karbala, Iraq. After command, he served as a military assistant and speech writer for the Secretary of the Army and later as the Executive Officer to the Director, Joint IED Defeat Organization.
From 2008 to 2011, Brig. Gen. Kem commanded the Europe District of the Army Corps of Engineers, responsible for construction and engineering support for EUCOM and AFRICOM. From 2011 to 2012, he was deployed to Afghanistan as the Director of Engineering, NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan, and responsible for a $10.5 billion program to build facilities for the Afghan Army and Police.
Brig. Gen. Kem holds an MBA from Kellogg Business School and a Master of Science degree in environmental engineering from Northwestern University. His awards and decorations include the Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit, Bronze Star with Oak Leaf Cluster, Senior Parachutist Wings, Pathfinder Badge, Combat Action Badge and Ranger Tab. He is a registered Professional Engineer in Virginia and a Chartered Financial Analyst.