Sacramento District Counsel earns USACE highest award

USACE Sacramento District
Published Nov. 16, 2020
Updated: Nov. 16, 2020

Al Faustino, Sacramento District Counsel, goes over paperwork in preparation for a meeting with the commander.

Al Faustino, District Counsel for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Sacramento District, has been awarded the Lester Edelman Spirit of Arrowhead Award for Legal Manager of the Year. It is the highest award conferred by the Chief Counsel of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and recognizes the accumulation of accomplishments over the recipient’s current assignment.

But let’s back up a little bit.

The 69-year-old Faustino didn’t just pop into Sacramento District one day, win the trust of the Commander, and quickly earn this high-level award. It’s the culmination of many years of outstanding public service. So what experiences led up to Faustino receiving such an accolade?

Al has a penchant for working. It started at an early age. A self-described “military brat” who was not even old enough to drive, he began his working career as a busboy at the Officer’s Club on Westover Air Force Base in Chicopee, Massachusetts.  

His next big step led him to the military. It was 1969, and the Vietnam War was raging. Still, Al joined the Marine Corps right out of high school. He knew there was a strong chance he would end up in combat, but by earning the top spot in his class he had the option to remain stateside working as a radio operator. He didn’t take that option, however, because one young man in his class was married. Al decided to give up his spot – essentially volunteering to go to Vietnam.

He ended up serving 18 months with the 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, 1st Marine Division in Vietnam where he was initially assigned to a place called Dodge City – Gateway to the Arizona Territory. The Arizona Territory was a “free-fire zone,” which meant you didn’t need further approval to engage the enemy – you were always locked, loaded and cleared.

“It was a lot of boredom, a lot of routine stuff, interspersed with moments of sheer terror and chaos,” said Faustino. 

Both the Marine Corps and Vietnam experience would have a profound impact on Faustino, giving him newfound confidence and a lasting mindset that there are no obstacles he can’t overcome.

Following his tour of duty, Al attended Amherst College, earned a degree in Philosophy, and considered following his father’s footsteps into business. But after working through trigonometry, he faced calculus, a requirement at the time. He disliked the thought of taking calculus so badly, it was enough to make him reconsider his direction.

While pondering possible alternate courses of study, Al’s mom made a passing comment that would resonate.

“You like to argue…Why don’t you go to law school?” his mom asked. The suggestion stuck, and Al went on to attend Duke Law School.

“It seemed like a good idea, and that’s actually how I got into it,” he said. “Once I started, I just kept going.”

It was during law school that Al’s best friend talked him into considering the U.S. Army’s legal program. Al was also considering the Marine Corps’ legal program, but found the Army had a more robust legal practice and would accept him as a Captain over six years. He decided the Army was the better offer.

“And then they just kept giving me good jobs!” He laughed. “Then twenty-two years had gone by when they finally offered me a job I wasn’t too crazy about. So, I realized it was time to try something else.”

Faustino retired as a Colonel in 2001. He immediately began working for the US Department of Justice in the Immigration and Naturalization Service. In 2003, INS was absorbed into the Department of Homeland Security as the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Division. 

It was in 2007 that Faustino’s path led him to USACE’s Sacramento District. Eight months into his new position, Al volunteered for a year-long assignment as District Counsel for the Afghanistan Engineer District in Kabul, Afghanistan.

“While there, I tried the first Armed Services Board of Contract Appeals case in a combat zone. It was one of the most challenging cases I’ve ever worked on,” said Faustino.

Following Afghanistan, he was off to Pacific Ocean Division as assistant division counsel, then a temporary assignment as District Counsel in Louisville, and a brief stint back at POD. While at POD he applied for, and was selected for, the position of District Counsel with Sacramento District in 2010.

Faustino said he is happy to have been with Sacramento District for 10 years. He said he has always enjoyed the varied missions, constant change, and smart people he gets to work with.

“I’m truly happy to have been able to stay in one place for so long now. This is by far the longest job I’ve ever had. I’ve got a great staff, the job is still fun…if only I could get rid of some of the administrative duties,” he laughed.

Sacramento District commander Col. James Handura wrote of Faustino, “No challenge is insurmountable for him. With one of the largest Counsel workloads in the country, he manages to timely deliver legal services, even when there are staffing shortages; keep his sense of humor; and takes care of not only the Counsel staff, but many of the SPK leaders and their staff.”

Running a busy legal shop with 18 staff members is not for the faint of heart. But when asked if he finds the job of lead counsel stressful, Faustino’s answer reflected the lasting effect of having served in a combat role.

 “It’s a relative stress,” he said with a smile and a wry laugh. “I don’t mean to be cavalier about it, but any day they’re not shooting at me is a good day!”

Bet you didn’t know:

- Al plans to retire in 2-3 years, within 5 for sure.
- Al is an avid golfer, but also enjoys ballroom and Latin dancing with his wife, Rose Ann Goodwin.
- Al and his wife want to travel to both Ireland and the Philippines to visit hers and his ancestral grounds.
- Some books Al recommends (among others): Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett; To Set the Record Straight by Judge John J. Sirica; Baa Baa Black Sheep by Col. “Pappy” Boyington (USMC Ret); In the Company of Heroes by CW4 Michael J. Durant (Ret); and The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday.
- Al and his wife have a 55lb. lap dog. A Huskador (Lab/Husky mix) named Blaze.
- One of his grandchildren coined the perfect name for him. He’s Grandpa, he’s Al, he’s Grandpal.