No one likes to do the maintenance. That’s true whether talking about a house, a car or multi-million-dollar missile defense infrastructure. Or so says Brian Ball, the chief of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Transatlantic Middle East District’s (TAM) Procurements and Services Branch.
The branch can provide regular and corrective maintenance for facilities, equipment, procurement of spare parts & consumables, and new or replacement construction for facility related equipment, building renovations as well as training and professional services support.
“We build some really great facilities for our mission partners,” said Ball. “But even the best facilities only last if you maintain them. Our District has had a presence in the Middle East for over 70 years and some of our early projects are still around today. But we’ve also seen cases where we built something, no one does the maintenance on it, and even just a few years later its fallen into a state of disrepair.”
TAM is unique among USACE districts in that most of it’s work is done on behalf of U.S. allied nation partners. When the U.S. sells weapons systems or military equipment (aircraft, missile defense, etc.) through foreign military sales cases, those nations will often pay TAM to build the infrastructure for those systems. Using USACE helps ensure what’s known as a “total package approach and means that the FMS partner will not only receive the actual equipment but that the infrastructure to support it is built by an organization familiar with the requirements. It can also include follow on material such as spare parts and training to help ensure everything is kept in good working order.
Ball said that using his branch benefits his district and USACE as well as their mission partners.
“It's in our best interest to see the facilities we build reach their full service-life potential and not fall into disrepair,” Ball stated. “Our customers benefit from that increase in facility lifespan and from not having to dedicate their own time and personnel to maintenance activities. We benefit because these big, fancy, impressive buildings we’ve built remain in good condition and can serve as showpieces and points of advertisement for USACE’s design and construction quality.”
According to Ball, one of the biggest challenges of his job is convincing the district’s mission partners to use his services.
“It’s sometimes hard to measure success in a program that’s meant to prevent something bad from happening rather than just building something. What I will say is that I’ve yet to see an instance where a mission partner has asked us to stop providing O&M services on any facility once we’ve put a program in place."
Ball was also quick to attribute much of the success his branch to the district’s contracting section.
“Anything you could say about the uniqueness of our mission in (TAM) Programs and Project Management, you can say about them in the context of the USACE Contracting Community and our contracting section. “What we do is not unique but the expertise with which we are able to do it providing our mission partners with what they need when they need it is. This is something we’ve developed over time and we’d love to see utilized more and more.”
“I love it when a plan comes together,” is an often-quoted line from the 80’s television show “The A-Team.” However, for the Planning and Requirements team with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Transatlantic Middle East District (TAM), the quote might more accurately be “I love it when a master plan comes together.”
Comprised of professionals with backgrounds in engineering, planning, architecture, contracting and other disciplines, Planning and Requirements looks at the district’s U.S. and allied nation mission partners’ long-term infrastructure requirements and defines how to provide planning support for those requirements. Typically, requirements include a host of factors impacting construction or expansion of military bases in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility. Those bases are essentially small cities with the Planning and Requirements branch fulfilling the function of city planners.
Sean Martin, the head of TAM’s Planning and Requirements branch, said in order to be successful, his team needs to be able to do a bit of everything.
“Our efforts can include hydrology analysis, geospatial support for real estate validation, knowing and validating host nation environmental governing standards and everything in between. We recently had to do an archaeological and cultural analysis for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. This type of project was a first for our District – even though many of us have supported similar work in previous positions.”
One of 9 specialized planning staffs in USACE, TAM’s Regional Planning Support Center is a relatively recent addition to the District having been stood up within the last five (5) years. Despite being a relatively new branch, they are already making a big impact having been recognized by the Federal Planning Division of the American Planning Association. The branch won an award for “Outstanding Federal Planning Project” on behalf of the U.S. Air Force in the CENTCOM AOR. The project involved developing a flexible execution strategy presented in clear, concise narratives, as well as two- and three-dimensional graphics, illustrations, and video to validate 210 projects valued at $1 billion.
Vanessa Francis Gray, a community planner for the branch said that working on the team and seeing their achievements as been rewarding to her.
“I’m near my three-year anniversary at TAM and it has been a great experience. The TAM Planning and Requirements branch is a laboratory on how to successfully apply planning concepts to complex, high stakes projects. Since my time at the branch, I have worked on a variety of projects including redevelopment plans for host nation critical infrastructure and installation master planning for joint U.S.-Host Nation missions.
One of the most rewarding projects I have worked on is a master planning effort for one of our allied nation partners for a National Defense University. The project combined several of my interests: urban planning and education. I come from a family of teachers and learned over many years about the specific needs of school facilities. This part of my background served me well while creating recommendations and short- to long-term development strategies.”
Martin said what his branch brings to the table is a comprehensive and deliberate approach to projects large and small.
“Planning bring discipline to a process and establishes a solid baseline condition to craft every conceivable alternative as well as gaining new information.
Most planners are not subject matter experts in a significantly wide range of topics, although all USACE planners gain a wide range of knowledge over time. Planners are SMEs in converting conversations to actionable tasks, in analyzing incomplete information to craft a way ahead to successful resolution to minimize impacts to direct, secondary, and even tertiary interactions.”
When the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Transatlantic Middle East District (TAM) attorney Cara Mroczek was handed a case involving a disputed Afghan real estate contract a few years ago, she had no idea it would lead to a career defining moment that not only resulted in a big win for the U.S. government but also may have literally saved lives.
Her efforts on the case were a large factor in her receiving the George Wolfe Koonce Award given to USACE’s attorney of the year.
In a nutshell, the case involved a dispute about who owned land being leased by the U.S. Army in Afghanistan. Over the course of four years, Mroczek researched and litigated the case which involved coordinating with multiple other agencies, chasing in intricate paperwork trail and arguing the case before the Armed Services Contract Board which ultimately found in the U.S. Government’s favor saving tens of millions of dollars.
Rob McKenney, who is TAM’s District Counsel and Mroczek’ s supervisor, said he knew she was the right person for the task.
“Her representation of USACE in the Abchakan Village case took an amazing amount of commitment, diligence, and fortitude, but Cara met every obstacle with an even stronger resolve to prevail on behalf of the Corps.”
One of the most important factors in the government’s victory was Mroczek’s use of an Afghan law expert who helped her track down and translate some of the documentation needed and navigate the Afghan court system. This is where the professional part of her job became personal.
Because the Afghan lawyer she was working with was known to work with the U.S., his family was in grave danger when Afghanistan returned to Taliban rule in 2021. With thousands of refugees fleeing Afghanistan, Cara felt obligated to help him get his family to safety.
She immediately went to work finding a DoD point of contact for the evacuation, and scrambled to provide the documentation to help the man and his family seek safety in the U.S.
Mroczek said for her part, she appreciated the amount of collaboration required in the case and that it meant a lot to her to have had the opportunity to make a difference.
“Working on this case, along with the TAM counsel team, the range of federal family agencies involved, and local Afghan expert is definitely a highlight of my 15+ year career as a federal attorney. I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to help my Afghan attorney colleague and support the broader mission in the CENTCOM AOR.”
Rebecca Bockmann, TAM’s Deputy District Counsel, said that type of concern is one of the reasons she feels Mroczek was selected for the award.
“Cara is the perfect recipient for such a high honor because the efforts for which she was recognized as USACE’s Attorney of the Year are representative of the dedication she sets forth daily, to the many things in her life she values. She is a tremendous advocate who consistently finds a way to ‘yes.’ She is also just as committed to investing in others; she always finds the time to serve as a mentor or assist other trial attorneys throughout USACE who lean on her for her litigation expertise. She inspires those around her, and we are fortunate to have her as a colleague and friend,” said Bockmann.
The USACE’s Transatlantic Middle East District supports U.S. Military and allied partner nation construction and engineering requirements in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility in countries throughout the Middle East.
When you work for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the figurative bridges you build are often just as important at the literal ones. This is true in local communities when helping people recover from natural disasters and it’s true around the world when partnering with U.S. allies to improve their defense and engineering capabilities.
The 55th Chief of Engineers Lt. Gen. Scott Spellmon recently had a hand in building those bridges while visiting the Kingdom of Jordan and the State of Qatar – two long-standing U.S. allies currently working with USACE’s Transatlantic Middle East District (TAM) on defense infrastructure projects.
Spellmon visited missile defense and aircraft infrastructure projects in Qatar as well as projects USACE is undertaking for the Jordanian Air Force. Spellmon said that although the visits to the project sites were eye-opening, it was the relationships District personnel had cultivated with their partners overseas that were most impressive.
Through TAM, the Army Corps of Engineers has had a permanent presence in the Middle East for more than 70 years, partnering with U.S. allies in the region on engineering, design and construction projects ranging from early road systems and airports to modern day state-of-the-art defense infrastructure.
Currently most of this work is done through foreign military financing, where partner nations like Qatar and Jordan fund the oversight of construction on some of their defense infrastructure.
“It’s important to note that our Middle East District mission partners are the ones paying for these projects, so they’ve got a choice on who they want to design and build them. Time and again they choose USACE. That’s a testament to both our reputation for providing high quality design and construction services and the trust that the Middle East District has built with our allied partners year after year,” said Spellmon.
In Qatar, Spellmon met with members of the Qatari Emirati Air Defense Forces, Qatari Emirati Air Force and Qatari Emirati Engineering Corps.
“USACE recently hosted Qatari Engineers in [Washington] DC and we talked about strides they’ve made in expanding the capacity of their own engineering corps to include things like disaster response. It’s great to be able to come here, continue our discussions and see that great work we’re doing with them,” said Spellmon. “It’s been great witnessing firsthand the strength of the relationships our engineers and program managers have cultivated with their allied nation counterparts over the years.”
In addition to meeting with Qatari defense forces, Spellmon also met with U.S. military commanders to discuss how USACE can continue supporting U.S. joint forces in the region. Recent efforts include the construction of new dining and housing facilities, utilities infrastructure and runway repair.
“We appreciate our partnership with USACE at Al Udeid Air Base” said Col. Dennis Cummings, 379th Air Expeditionary Wing deputy commander. “We are one team with shared goals, committed to building innovative solutions that optimize our resources and deliver results.”
USACE is divided up by Divisions and Districts with each Division matching up with a combatant command, the military commands responsible for each region of the globe. The Transatlantic Division is aligned with U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM).
“This Middle East is vital to security and stability around the world,” said Spellmon. “USACE isn’t the warfighter, but we enable the warfighter. It’s great to get feedback from commanders in the field on our ability to provide what they need. Sometimes that’s a better bunker that can save lives, sometimes it’s building a dormitory that makes their deployment just a little bit more comfortable.”
Spellmon also had a chance to meet with USACE personnel in the field, present awards and get their feedback on how they view their contributions to the USACE mission.
"The USACE Qatar Team was very proud to host the Chief of Engineers and showcase the work we have done over the almost last 20 years here in Qatar and all we are currently doing. His input regarding the future of USACE and where we are going as an organization was also highly appreciated," said Capt. Alfred McQuirter, TAM project engineer in Qatar.