Not Your Average Army Unit: 273rd Forward Engineer Support Team-Advanced

Imagine being an active-duty soldier, walking the halls and cubicles of your new Army assignment looking for someone in uniform to guide you in the right direction and not finding another soldier. There’s no motor pool, no weapons room, and no personnel office.

You finally walk into the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Fort Worth District command suite and are greeted by two of the warmest smiles that remind you of walking in the front door of your childhood and being met by your mom.

With more than 1,100 civilian personnel in the district, it is the size of a large battalion on a typical Army installation. The biggest difference between the district and a battalion is that there are only 16 soldiers in the district.

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Of those 16 soldiers, Army Master Sgt. Justin Lindquist, the noncommissioned officer in charge of the 273rd Forward Engineer Support Team-Advanced, is the lone enlisted engineer.

The FEST-A is an eight-person team of military and civilian engineering experts. The 273rd FEST-A is assigned to the Fort Worth District as a rapid response team for deployments to support combatant commands, a joint task force, or Army units where short-term engineering planning and capabilities are needed.

“It’s a culture change for sure,” Lindquist said. “All of the interactions I’ve had have been great; everyone is understanding, happy, and even surprised to help an NCO with whatever problem I bring to them.”

Lindquist is the engineer detachment’s senior enlisted advisor to the FEST commander, just as he would be in any Army unit. It is a key developmental position for an engineer’s career progression. He’s still responsible for the unit’s training on individual and collective tasks as well as management of unit resources and training on its equipment. He also manages the movement of the detachment to any contingency or overseas location.

Soldiers arriving to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Fort Worth District are greeted upon their arrival to the executive suite by Lynn Chapman, right, and Debra Hildreth. USACE PHOTO BY PATRICK ADELMANN

Where things begin to differ is how he executes those tasks and the fact that he doesn’t lead soldiers.

“The civilians assigned to the FEST are selected because they’re a technical expert in their field,” Lindquist said. “When it comes to their expertise, there isn’t much I can show them that they don’t already know. What I can try to do is develop their understanding that they can contribute more than what their respective disciplines can provide. That they are on the front lines of engineering decisions directly impacting soldiers on the ground and across the globe.”

Another one of the 16 military personnel is Capt. Matthew Hartke, who recently commanded 90 soldiers before he left the 25th Infantry Division’s Bravo Company, 70th Brigade Engineer Battalion, in Alaska.

He joined the district in July of 2023, and upon arriving, was assigned as the project engineer for the Dallas Floodway Resident Office.

Much like the changes in temperature between the two states, he found himself in a position he had not been in before, no soldiers to lead and no senior enlisted advisors like Lindquist by his side.

“It was an adjustment for me mentally,” Hartke said. “I always had a senior NCO partner with me throughout my time the Army. So, not having that, and being just me on my own, was an adjustment.”

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While not what he is used to, Hartke found the civilians he works with to be a great asset, and like the senior NCOs he has had in the past, a wealth of knowledge. He finds himself relying on that knowledge to make large strides in his work efforts and his education as he studies for his Project Management Professional certification.

“This is on paper, and in reality, a broadening assignment for me,” Hartke said. “This is a great way to broaden my horizons in terms of civilian construction and public works. I get to experience what I’ve been doing at a lesser extent in the Army with small projects. But take it a step farther and see how it translates to the bigger projects and project management as a whole.”

Lt. Col. Joshua Haynes, Fort Worth District’s deputy commander, is on his third assignment with USACE. This gives him a somewhat unique insight into the similarities and differences between being stationed with an engineer unit and USACE.

“One of the similarities is that both soldiers and our civilians look for guidance of some kind,” Haynes said. “Soldiers need to know what they are doing tomorrow, what is their task, and what is their purpose. For civilians in USACE, intent driven guidance is more so applicable.”

Haynes sees any assignment to USACE as a broadening experience. It doesn’t matter your role or position, there are ample opportunities to take your career to the next level.

“One of the big things when talking education opportunities, USACE is very opportunistic when it comes to education and responsive when people want to better themselves with it,” he said. “For military members, broadening our horizon on what we can do inside the military, and in USACE, is really based off the education USACE can provide or provide pathways for.”

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