Expertise at the Front: How USACE Experience Powers U.S. Army Success

In the vast, dynamic landscape of the U.S. Central Command’s Area of Responsibility, the success of the U.S. Army’s mission is intricately linked to the infrastructure that supports it. For more than 70 years, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has played a crucial role in providing the critical engineering, design, and construction expertise that ensures operational readiness and resilience across the Middle East, Central Asia, and the Levant. The Transatlantic Expeditionary District, as USACE’s only forward deployed district in support of contingency operations, continues this legacy by being the sharpest tip of the spear, strengthening partnerships, building capacity, and enhancing security for our nation, allies, and partners.

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The backgrounds of those who serve in the Expeditionary District are as diverse as the tasks they undertake. Each member brings a unique blend of professional experience, cultural insight, and even military service, enriching the collective capability of the team. Whether it’s designing and constructing facilities that withstand the rigors of desert climates or ensuring that installations meet the multifaceted security needs of those they serve and protect, the expertise of USACE personnel is fundamental. And their stories reveal a deep commitment to leveraging their skills for the greater good.

Highlighting the diversity and expertise within the team, Jillian Martin, the District’s Construction Administration Branch office engineer who supports the district virtually from New York; Russell Wahlay, District construction chief; and Yusuf Tavfik Sultan, District electrical engineer—who both arrived at the district this month—shared their experiences and insights on serving with a district that is quite literally – Always Forward.

Jillian Martin, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Expeditionary District Construction Administration Branch office engineer, who supports the district virtually from New York, at work in her virtual office, Apr. 16. COURTESY PHOTO

“I hold a BS in Architectural Engineering and an MS in Civil Engineering from Drexel University,” Martin shared. “My experience includes four years as a Project Engineer and Project Manager with the GSA Mid-Atlantic Region, one and a half years as a Civil Engineer at USAG West Point DPW, and six years at the USACE New York District – West Point Area Office.

“When the Expeditionary District needed a virtual Office Engineer, I eagerly supported the mission despite not being physically present,” Martin continued. “My expertise in Construction Administration involves overseeing project setup, maintaining accurate data, modifying contracts, and managing project closeouts. These skills are vital for executing the USACE mission worldwide.”

Similarly, Russell Wahlay reflected on his extensive field experience and the cultural insights he gained, which fuel his commitment to the district.

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“I am a Civil Engineer with a Professional Engineering license, currently serving as an Area Engineer with an Administrative Contracting Officer warrant in the Buffalo District,” Wahlay stated. “My experience includes four deployments with both the Transatlantic Afghanistan District and the Mosul Dam Task Force. These positive experiences and the opportunity to work with diverse cultures in these geographic areas have inspired me to contribute further to the Transatlantic Expeditionary District.”

Likewise, Sultan brings a unique combination of military and engineering perspectives, illustrating the depth of experience that enhances the district’s capabilities.

“I possess two distinct backgrounds: military and engineering. My military experience spans 13 years as an officer in the Iraqi army, where I honed my leadership skills, Sultan explained. “My engineering expertise developed through my education and participation in various projects focusing on electronic design and programming control devices. After completing my education, I transitioned to the Department of Transportation, spending seven years as a lead design engineer overseeing numerous projects in the southern region of Maine.

“This collective experience inspired me to join USACE, which offered valuable opportunities to serve and further enhance my skills and expertise,” Sultan continued. “I was motivated to volunteer with the Expeditionary District by its rich history and commendable achievements. I saw it as a chance to enhance my skills by working on more complex projects and in diverse environments. I believe that my work at the district will significantly contribute to both my personal and professional growth.”

Working effectively in CENTCOM requires more than just technical skills; it demands a profound understanding of the cultural and social nuances of the region. This cultural acuity enhances project outcomes and enhances an environment of respect and collaboration among our all our mission partners.

Sultan exemplifies this cultural acuity, drawing from his extensive personal and professional experiences in the Middle East to enhance the effectiveness of USACE projects.

“I was born, lived, and worked in the Middle East, which has given me a deep understanding of the culture, people, and legal systems of the region,” Sultan shared. “My expertise extends to power systems and professional codes relevant to my role as an electrical engineer with USACE. This background significantly supports and enhances the efficiency of my work. I see it as a valuable opportunity to share and transfer this knowledge to other engineers during my time here.

“After moving to the USA, I successfully integrated into the culture and formed strong bonds with many communities,” Sultan explained. “At USM, where I joined multicultural groups, I had the opportunity to interact with students from diverse countries and ethnicities. Being part of such a diverse community not only strengthens societies and promotes stability but also enhances the workplace environment, making work more enjoyable and providing opportunities to learn about different cultures, including their languages, foods, and beliefs.

“I also served as a regiment commander in the Iraqi military for 13 years, an experience that aligns well with my current civilian role, given my military background,” Sultan continued. “Familiarity with the military environment and the ability to effectively integrate with professionals from various backgrounds have further enabled me to contribute effectively to USACE.”

Martin’s upbringing in a culturally diverse setting and her professional experiences provide a robust foundation for understanding and leading multicultural teams at USACE.”

“I grew up in a very culturally diverse area of the U.S.,” Martin explained. “Exposure to a variety of cultures and religions was common. My younger sister, adopted from a foreign country, further enriched this diversity. In my professional life, I’ve tackled projects initially conducted in different languages and measurement systems, requiring translation before analysis.

“These experiences have deeply informed my approach to working on multicultural teams,” Martin continued. “Throughout my federal career, I’ve managed teams across various engineering disciplines and collaborated with other organizational branches like contracting, finance, and legal. This diverse exposure has ideally prepared me for leading diverse teams.”

Likewise, Russell Wahlay leverages the insights from his multiple deployments to enhance the operational strategies of the Transatlantic Expeditionary District.

“As I mentioned previously, my multiple USACE deployments have given me unique perspectives on working in deployment environments, Wahlay stated. “I am committed to contributing these insights to the district mission. I hope the experiences I gain here will enrich my work back at my home district, allowing me to carry over valuable knowledge and practices.”

Whether in uniform or as civilians, the goal remains the same: to support the mission and the people who carry it out. This perspective drives a proactive approach to project management, emphasizing safety, sustainability, and the well-being of all. The tangible results of their work—whether in building operational capacity, enhancing force protection measures, or in improving the quality of life for service members and civilians alike—underscore the pivotal role of USACE in advancing military capabilities and operational readiness.

Martin explains transitioning from an Area Office to District-level work with TAE, highlighting her expanded role and enhanced communication skills required for global operations.

“Previously, my work with USACE had been on an Area Office level,” Martin explained. “The different perspective here has helped deepen my understanding of the USACE mission as well as the coordination required to make it all happen. Working remotely from another continent and time zone has also helped further develop my communication skills.

“Most of my previous USACE experience has been related to the Military Academy at West Point, repairing and constructing the assets needed to train cadets as they prepare to commission and lead within the Army,” Martin continued. “My work with the Expeditionary District offers a much different perspective on the work of the Army and how USACE plays a part in it. Through this district, I can continue to serve a different phase of Army life.”

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In a similar vein, Sultan reflects on the empowerment and pride of working at USACE, emphasizing the importance of cultural diversity in strengthening the organization.

“It is my honor to serve at USACE, and I hope to have the opportunity to continue being part of this organization in the future,” Sultan emphasized. “Working at USACE makes me feel empowered to serve our nation effectively. Collaborating with individuals from diverse cultures not only enriches our experiences but also contributes to strengthening our nation.”

Wahlay shared how his deployment experience equips him to address project challenges, underscoring his commitment as a civilian supporting U.S. warfighters.

“My past USACE deployments will help in dealing with the challenges that occur with our projects here,” Wahlay explained. “I also understand from a people standpoint the possible challenges we have as deployed civilians assisting the USACE mission. I have never served in the military, however deploying with USACE as a civilian in support of the U.S. warfighters is an honor for me.”

Looking to the future, the professionals of the Expeditionary District are well-prepared to meet the evolving challenges within the CENTCOM AOR. Armed with a rich mix of engineering expertise, cultural insights, and strategic deployment experience, they are superbly positioned to continue their legacy of building strong. The team remains committed to leveraging their collective expertise, innovative thinking, and strategic insights—always moving forward to ensure that the Army of 2030 is agile, resilient, and ready for any challenges ahead.

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