FEST Provides the Forward Face of USACE


Chuck Walker

, Mobile District

In the military, deploying to different locations around the world can be and is an everyday occurrence.

Soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines routinely must pack their bags and go to a different location for a period of time to perform their jobs, in often austere locations.

In the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), these deployments are fulfilled by a Forward Engineer Support Team (FEST) and one such team is based in the Mobile District.

Maj. Kelli Foley, USACE’s FEST-Advance Team officer in charge, said one of the reasons she likes being a part of FEST is the unique opportunities it provides her in her career.

Maj. Kelli Foley, Forward Engineer Support Team-Advance officer in charge, and Sgt. 1st Class Dandy Prak, noncommissioned officer in charge, run an equipment check in their office at Mobile, Alabama, Sept. 14, 2022. Foley and Prak were ensuring their equipment is operational for an upcoming deployment

“What I personally enjoy about it most is how it bridges so many different facets of the strategic and diplomatic objectives that I would otherwise never impact,” Foley said. “For example, typical garrison experiences within the Army unit do not really span outside of that installation. We aren’t directly impacting the local community; we are impacting the overarching Army mission, but only at a very, very, small scale. As a member of FEST, we find ourselves helping to enable the development of improved partnerships between not only other Army agencies, but Navy, Air Force, and allied militaries as well.”

A FEST-Advance Team is a small advanced-engineering team consisting of an officer in charge and a noncommissioned officer in charge and six Department of the Army civilian engineers. The team is a component of USACE’s Field Force Engineer (FFE) program and designed to provide support to combatant commands and joint task force-level organizations.

Often the team will include civil, mechanical, electrical, structural, geospatial, and environmental disciplines, and may include additional certificates to better accommodate mission requirements. Foley said the FEST Team gets a variety of training, both local and formal, before it deploys to the assignment.

“Each team goes about their deployment preparation a bit differently as various variables come to play on each rotation,” Foley said. “But in general, each team – time permitting – conducts some form of local training, attends the FFE FEST course in Vicksburg, Mississippi, and a certification exercise, as well as various administrative and medical requirements.”

Once a FEST-A Team is forward deployed, Foley said the tasks or projects the team is asked to provide can vary, but that they typically focus on better enabling mission success.

“Sometimes, this means assessing older installations to determine how best to bring them up to a new desired capacity or their original state,” Foley said. “Often times, its simpler tasks like conducting a route assessment from point A to point B. To give you an example, we may receive a request for support to assess an old building. We would send the team to this location to collect data and conduct their assessment, then we would create a product packet that consists of our finding, recommendations, scope of work, designs, and cost estimate, if applicable.”

Members of the Forward Engineer Support Team-Advance from Mobile, Alabama, pose with their guide, Filipino Army Lt. Inna Vier, at Fort Magsaysay in the Philippines on July 14, 2022. The FEST-A Team spent a week in the Philippines, where they completed field training for an upcoming deployment.

Foley’s advice for anyone who desires to be a part of a FEST Team, is to make sure you know what your personal and professional goals are, then choose a rotation that matches up with what you want to accomplish.

“FEST deployments are a very regular occurrence, so don’t feel the need to rush on the first opportunity you see,” Foley said. “Currently, teams are on six-month rotations. Think about where you’d like to go and when, and communicate your interests with your supervisor well in advance. It’s important to note, that you require approval from your supervisor and typically your district commander; so, it is vital that you are clear and proactive about your professional goals early so you can all work together to achieve them.”

Foley said that her goals for the FEST Team in the near future is to help each other achieve their goals and to establish a good legacy for the teams that follow them.

“CENTCOM [U.S. Central Command] operations for FEST-As are winding down rather significantly, so we want to ensure our team gets as valuable an experience as possible,” Foley said. “We have many first-time deployers, so we hope to help them experience and appreciate the unique aspects of CENTCOM life as well as work with as many different agencies as possible. Much of how we succeed is reliant on the relationships we build and strengthen. So, we certainly hope to continue to develop relationships for the teams that will follow behind us.”
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