November 11, 2016

Some languages can cross every culture in the world.

During his four years in the U.S. Air Force, DPR’s Nick Ertmer found that one of those is candy. Stationed in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom, Ertmer and his team would venture off-base into the countryside, passing out candy to the elation of the young Afghan children, fostering goodwill and bonds of trust.

“It was days like those that really grounded me, because we’re all more alike than we are different. Seeing those communities impacted how I view the world,” said Ertmer, who joined the Air Force after graduating from the University of Southern California’s Air Force ROTC program with a degree in civil engineering.

Captain in the 9th Civil Engineering Squadron, Ertmer led a team of engineers at Beale Air Force Base in Northern California, and Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan, tasked with making sure airfields were operational so planes could take off, land and perform their missions. Responsible for power production, safe drinking water and sewage, Ertmer’s team of 35 was made up of equipment operators, electricians, plumbers and other technicians.


Nick Ertmer (left) was stationed at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan, where his squadron kept airfields operational. (Photo courtesy: Nick Ertmer)

While deployed, a large part of his job was also planning what the base would leave the Afghans with when the Americans left the area. Ertmer helped plan a large-scale airfield replacement, creating a permanent airport that the Afghans would be able to use for decades to come.

“The Air Force opened me up to the diversity of our world. Not just seeing the world through the eyes of Afghans, but it also opened my eyes to the personal challenges and adversity that exists in every team, and every company,” he said.

After separating from the Air Force, Ertmer joined DPR in 2006 as a project engineer to grow the leadership skills that he had built in service and be a part of the entrepreneurial, inventive culture he had heard so much about from others in the industry. Ertmer draws parallels between the Air Force’s deliberate efforts to teach leadership skills and DPR’s culture at every level, where everyone is a leader in a different way.

He moved to DPR’s Raleigh office in 2010, where he is now a business unit leader, overseeing operations and helping project teams build great things for notable customers such as Fidelity, Biogen, United Therapeutics, EMC, Facebook, NC State University and Duke University.

“It’s a pretty humbling thing, knowing that I am now in a unique spot to influence people’s lives and careers, if they allow me to,” he said. “It brings me back to how no matter where you traveled in the world, as soon as you saw someone else in uniform, you felt a bond, an understanding – that you were there to support them and they were there to support you. That is a very powerful thing. We have opportunities in everything we do each day to model ourselves after that bond.”

Today, Ertmer takes pride in creating these bonds across DPR, and creating an empowered, supportive culture driven by people development and decision-making power at the front lines. He believes we are all tied together by a common fabric, united by being a part of something greater than ourselves – whether it is serving our country, passing out candy or building great things.