Materials Engineers Help Ensure USACE Project Success in Poland

With the construction of more than 50 munitions bunkers getting underway for the Munitions Storage Area (MSA) project in Powidz, Poland, it’s anticipated that more than 17,500 cubic meters of concrete will be placed – enough concrete to completely fill seven Olympic swimming pools.

The site will be a key element of the Army Prepositioned Stock Facility being built as part of larger plans to deter aggression along NATO’s eastern flank, and senior U.S., Polish, and NATO officials participated in its ceremonial groundbreaking.

With a project of such international importance, making sure it’s done right is paramount.

That’s part of why the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Europe District brought in experts from the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) Geotechnical and Structures Laboratory (GSL) based in Vicksburg, Mississippi.


“The quality of your project starts with controlling your materials and making sure that what you put in the ground, on the ground, or above the ground meets or exceeds the expectations of the designers and the engineers,” said GSL’s Materials Testing Center (MTC) Director Chad Gartrell while in Powidz. “You’ve got to have people who truly understand the nature of the material and how to test it properly and to be able to interpret the results. And, beyond that, to understand if it doesn’t meet the criteria – what do we do to fix it.”

Gartrell, along with USACE Savannah District’s Mike Wielputz, inspected the onsite materials (aggregate, concrete, and soils) laboratory set up to support the MSA construction efforts to ensure equipment, procedures, and facilities met all required standards. They also conducted training and testing for engineers and lab technicians on the site to obtain the necessary American Concrete Institute certifications they need to assess the concrete being produced throughout construction to ensure all standards are met.

“Depending on the particular circumstances and qualifications of the lab that is going to work on a particular USACE-owned or -administered project, the MTC may conduct anything from a desk audit all the way up to a full, on-site inspection of the laboratory, which is what we’re doing here in Powidz in Poland,” Gartrell said.

Quality is key on all construction projects, but with the construction of dozens of facilities designed to safely store and secure munitions, and using thousands of cubic meters of concrete in the process, ensuring the quality of the material is especially vital on the MSA project.

USACE Savannah District’s Mike Wielputz and U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center’s Chad Gartrell provide training on concrete standards and necessary certifications to contractors in Powidz, Poland, working on munitions storage area construction efforts, June 24, 2022. USACE’s Europe District construction involves building more than 50 bunkers, using roughly 17,500 cubic meters of concrete, and the training is part of ensuring the project and its onsite concrete laboratory meet all required standards. U.S. ARMY PHOTO BY ED ARGUETA

“These bunkers are going to be storing military munitions, and with that comes a great deal of safety requirements baked into the design,” said Europe District Project Engineer Ed Argueta. “We appreciate the team from ERDC and Savannah District bringing their deep expertise out here to inspect the testing laboratory, provide guidance on the batch plant, and provide training and testing to certify our contractors to make sure the project is a success and can support the larger mission here in Powidz.”

Gartrell said that ERDC supports USACE and Defense Department missions all over the world on a wide variety of needs – in this case, construction quality control and materials testing.

“We’ve worked with labs in Djibouti, Africa, American Samoa, South Korea, Wake Island, Kwajalein Atoll, Hawaii, Alaska, all over the lower 48 states, just to name a few,” Gartrell said. “In general, we’re trying to help ensure that laboratories that are working on these U.S. projects understand the values that they’re getting and can run a good quality test – and a repeatable test – and get good results, so the government has the best option to get the product they want.”

Gartrell stressed that the MTC and ERDC, along with their wealth of expertise, were ready and willing to help teams across USACE, anywhere in the world, to deliver the highest-quality projects – all they have to do is reach out and call.

“In the case of the MTC, you’ve got multiple people in one building that focus on asphalt, concrete, aggregate, soil and cement, and pozzolans,” Gartrell said. “If there’s a problem, they either have dealt with it before, or they are eager to dive in and try and figure out the best way to deal with it to solve the problem that’s happening in the field. That’s the reason we’re there. We love it when people call us and say, ‘Hey, we have a problem, can you guys help us?’ And the answer 99.999% of the time is: ‘Absolutely, we can help you.’”

He added that often, they are able to help solve problems without even traveling.

“Sometimes solutions come with some cost. Sometimes they cost nothing more than some time and a few phone calls to give us a chance to listen to your problem and provide some guidance and possible solutions,” Gartrell said. “This is what we do, and this is what we love to do.”

This story featured in the 2022-2023 print and digital edition of America’s Engineers: The People, Programs, and Projects of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

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