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.”
German and U.S. Army leaders marked the formal start of construction for a $1.3 billion project here intended to include nearly 50 buildings and house more than 5,000 Soldiers. The first Operational Readiness Training Complex will be built over about 10 years and will include all the facilities needed for an entire brigade set of troops and equipment to train and operate on a rotational basis.
"There will be maintenance facilities, there will be training facilities, modern barracks, fitness facilities, dining facilities,” said U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Europe District Commander Col. Dan Kent while celebrating the groundbreaking for site preparation and infrastructure for the larger ORTC program last week. “In some ways it’s much like a city in that they can do everything they need to do from this platform.”
The new facilities will be meant for U.S., Allied and partner troops on rotational deployments in Grafenwoehr in Germany for training exercises, pre-deployment preparation or any number of other mission essential purposes.
Kent joined Brig. Gen. 7th Army Training Command Commanding General Brig. Gen. Steven Carpenter, U.S. Army Garrison Bavaria Commander Col. Kevin Poole, Bavaria State Minister Joachim Herrmann and Grafenwoehr Mayor Edgar Knobloch at the event highlighting the project’s kickoff.
"I would like to thank all the project partners who are working very hard on the construction of the ORTC," said Herrmann. "I very much welcome the fact that the Grafenwoehr will be greatly expanded over the next ten years. (We) have great interest in U.S. guest forces staying and continuing to invest."
Kent praised the partnership between Europe District and 7th ATC, U.S. Army Garrison Bavaria – in particular with their Directorate of Public Works -- German Bauamt teammates with Amberg-Sulzbach and the local contractor Marksgraf.
Kent also thanked the wide range of Europe District personnel who have worked for years to get to this point and will continue to support the project going forward.
"A project of this scale takes a team and it's important on a day like this to recognize their contributions," he said. "There have been many people who have worked for years toward this moment in our design, contracting, project management, base planning and other sections at our HQ in Wiesbaden,” Kent said. "I am also especially proud of our team here in Bavaria, who will be on the ground and help keep this amazing effort moving forward."
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.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Transatlantic Division made a significant impact at the U.S. Central Command's State Partnership Program Adjutant General Conference, held at the CENTCOM Headquarters, May 4-5, 2023.
Scott Cilley, the Transatlantic Division’s Plans and Operations chief, represented the division at the conference, which convened Adjutant Generals from Arizona, Colorado, Montana, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia, along with senior CENTCOM officials and representatives from U.S. Army Central, U.S. Air Forces Central, U.S. Special Operations Command Central, U.S. Space Force Central, and the U.S. National Guard Bureau.
The event focused on synchronizing State Partnership Operations, Activities, and Investments for fiscal years 2023 and 2024, aligning them with CENTCOM priorities, and developing Theater Security Cooperation plans.
Cilley delivered a compelling presentation on the potential of the Transatlantic Division’s involvement in Theater Security Cooperation Operations, Activities and Investments which was well received by the approximately 80 participants.
"We can leverage the subject matter expertise of our 36,000 civilians across the USACE Enterprise to add value to Theater Security Cooperation Operations, Activities and Investments,” Cilley noted during his address. "There are literally hundreds of disciplines where USACE can contribute to enhance our relationships with our partners and allies."
Cilley went on to illustrate specific areas where the USACE could contribute to upcoming Operations, Activities and Investments for fiscal years 2023 and 2024, particularly in regions like Central Asia, the Persian Gulf, and the Levant.
“The Transatlantic Division can significantly contribute to Theater Security Cooperation workshops, forums, mil-to-mil exchanges, travelling contact teams, and key leader engagements with partners and allies,” Cilley continued. “Our expertise can assist in everything from water management to building partner capacity and infrastructure development. As part of our Theater Security Cooperation planning, we are strategically poised to augment existing State Partnership Program events across all regions in the CENTCOM area of responsibility. With this involvement, the division can foster closer ties with partners and allies, promote regional stability, and contribute to shared security objectives.”
Col. Craig S. Baumgartner, the Transatlantic Division deputy commander, expressed his commitment to the State Partnership Program.
"Our participation in this conference underscores our growing engagement with the State Partnership Program. Over the past 18 months, the Transatlantic Division has proactively reached out to all eight State Partnership Program senior leaders and coordinators, highlighting our potential contributions. The Adjutant Generals have warmly welcomed our value proposition, leading to plans for supporting Operations, Activities and Investments in Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan."
The conference's outcomes set the stage for USACE's upcoming attendance at the CENTCOM Security Cooperation Working Group scheduled in Germany, June 12-16, 2023.
The CENTCOM State Partnership Program is a key component of the U.S. defense strategy, fostering mutual cooperation and building long-term relationships with partner nations. It has been instrumental in strengthening military and civilian relationships between the U.S. and partner nations, enhancing regional stability, and contributing to a broader understanding of national and international security issues.
Gears grind with a metallic gnashing, as a plume of black smoke belches out the exhaust – the mechanical, skeleton-like arm slowly extending toward a mound of dirt as the piston pulls the bucket into the fresh earth. The Engineer, clad in the familiar U.S. Army gray, green, and tan, deftly maneuvers the excavator like a seasoned professional, every move deliberate, as he repositions the bucket for another dive.
Despite the appearance of having done this for years, 1st Lieutenant Andrew Gilbert, a project Engineer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – Japan Engineer District (USACE JED) Kanagawa Resident Office, experienced his first-time usage of heavy equipment, such as an excavator and steamroller, courtesy of his Japanese host nation teammates, the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force (JGSDF).
Recently, Gilbert had the opportunity to spend a week with the JGSDF at the 3rd company’s Eastern Army, Camp Asaka, located in the Nerima area of Tokyo, a quiet suburb just north of the mega-metropolis.
He was extended a special invite from the Bilateral Co-Op Program’s lead, Junko Akabane, and preparations were made for his 5-day-immersion into the world of the JGSDF.
“Akabane-san was an immense help in sorting out all of the logistical requirements, and my own chain-of-command is always so supportive of what I choose to do,” said Gilbert. “Everything was approved in a heartbeat, and I jumped right over as soon as I could.”
This was not Gilbert’s first foray into liaising with the JGSDF, however – he is a frequent participant of U.S. Army Japan’s (USARJ) Bilateral Co-Op Program, which pairs junior officers and non-commissioned officers (NCOs) with their foreign counterpart to enhance English and Japanese language comprehension skills, learn about each other’s cultures, familiarize themselves with their respective branches’ doctrines and techniques, all with the goal of strengthening the strategic alliance between America and Japan.
Held each quarter since 1995, the JGSDF has sent officers, ranging from 2nd lieutenants to captains, to live and work at Camp Zama for a period of 10-weeks during which they engage in on-the-job training, serve as interpreters, and in positions as instructors. Opportunities for spending time with their partner off-duty also allow for a more meaningful strengthening of bilateral ties.
For the Houston, Texas native, Gilbert was a fish-out-of-water – having not been to a JGSDF camp in this capacity, and without any sort of English-based assistance meant that ahead of him was a fast and frenetic week packed with activities he could have never anticipated. It was a crash course in Japanese culture, with all the military bearing and professionalism you would expect from the JGSDF, but not without some laughs along the way.
“The 3rd Company had me extremely busy during my week with them and having the opportunity to work with the JGSDF is always a pleasure,” Gilbert said. “We did everything from taiko drumming, to combat Kempo, and even got to experience my first handling of a bulldozer – being an engineer, that’s like a dream come true!”
Gilbert’s visit this time, however, was a special chance for an American Soldier to reverse roles and visit a JGSDF camp. He wouldn’t be alone though – guiding him would be a familiar face, his friend, and former Co-Op Program partner, 1st LT. Shinji Kohara, a platoon leader with the 1st Engineer Battalion, also stationed at Camp Asaka.
Andrew and Shinji spent 8 weeks together previously during the Fall-season iteration of the Co-Op Program.*
“It’s always great to be with Shinji,” Gilbert said, a smirk forming across his face. “We can exchange laughs, exchange doctrine, and talk about each other’s work with an understanding that [surpasses language borders.]”
Gilbert and Kohara, aside from being friends, also share very similar work responsibilities and roles. While Gilbert is now a project engineer working with civilians at The District, he used to be a platoon leader at an earlier assignment – something Lt. Kohara does now at Camp Asaka.
“Although JED has given me a great chance to work with some fantastic civilians, I sometimes miss working with Soldiers,” mentioned Gilbert. “That’s why it’s so great to talk shop with Shinji, because he still maintains that tactical engineer perspective of a platoon leader, which is the position I had at Ft. Bragg (Ft. Liberty).”
Starting bright and early Monday morning, Gilbert’s tour of Camp Asaka began with the military standard in-processing, with priority on making sure the JED lieutenant was settled in his quarters and checked-in with the JGSDF leadership.
“I met with the Soldiers in the 3rd company, met with the company commander, and the battalion staff, and was bombarded with questions,” said Gilbert. “They asked me everything from what my work culture is like at JED, to where I come from, and what hobbies I have.”
After a friendly interrogation and flurry of paperwork, Day 1 ended, and Gilbert returned to his hotel nearby to unwind.
Day 2, and the rest of the week by comparison, was much more action-packed – literally. A taiko drum demonstration, a martial arts exhibition, a base tour throughout, followed by a heavy equipment hands-on experience, and even a curry-cooking contest put the young engineer to the test, giving him a taste – literally and metaphorically, of what the JGSDF life was like.
“I got to break a sweat beating on some drums with the 3rd company, and afterward engaged in some Japanese Kempo, which is kind of like kickboxing with more bells and whistles.”
Kempo, a Japanese martial art, practiced wearing protective gear and gloves, allows full use of stand-up striking, throwing, and ground fighting. It is a staple martial art for the Japanese Self-Defense Forces training regiments.
Having previous boxing experience, Gilbert was confident in his skills – the additional advantage in height and weight only further boosted his confidence as he faced-off against his JGSDF counterparts in practice combat.
Although the statuesque American Soldier proved he could hold his own, the Japanese Kempo technicians on display managed to ground him a few times.
“One of their JGSDF members really rocked me with a kick,” Gilbert admitted. “I was on the floor seeing stars in my eyes, I probably looked like a character out of Looney Tunes, with the birds circling my head.”
After being tested in combat, Gilbert was provided an informational tour around Camp Asaka by bicycle, where the JGSDF showed him some of their emergency response exercises, which is the primary and among the most-active functions of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces.
In between events and tours, Gilbert, the lone American Solider on the Japanese base, answered questions and posed for pictures with members of the JGSDF, swapped military patches, and even spoke with the Ōme City Mayor, where he discussed recruiting initiatives for the JGSDF and U.S. Army, furthering the positive relationships the two military entities celebrate.
Finally getting to the most exciting part of his journey, JED’s young lieutenant was brought to Camp Asaka’s engineering dig site.
With two excavators, a bulldozer, and a crater, Gilbert, like a child in a toy store, could barely contain himself.
“They let me drive around some of their dig equipment for a little while,” Gilbert said, beaming. “The controls were so intuitive, and had some great teachers help me maneuver everything – it was an absolute blast.”
Gilbert rounded out his visit with a curry cookoff, where he was a guest judge, and assisted in the set-up and preparation for a local festival to be held that weekend before his hosts gave him some parting gifts and parted ways.
“It was a short amount of time and felt even shorter because of the number of activities we did and fun we had,” said Gilbert. “It was a good busy, and far and away the best activity I did was operating the dig equipment.”
Although 1st Lieutenant Gilbert is back on home turf here at Camp Zama, his trip to Camp Asaka is never too far from his mind.
“Embedding with the JGSDF at Camp Asaka was an experience I will never forget,” Gilbert reflected. “They really pulled out all the stops with welcoming me and teaching me about their engineering mission.”
Come June, he will relocate back to the United States for his next assignment, of which he is still unsure what it will be. What he does know, is that the memories he’s created in Japan, and with the JGSDF, will stay with him forever.
“My time in Japan has been an amazing chapter of my life, and I will leave here a better, more well-rounded person because of it,” Gilbert said.