USACE Engineer Support Team Provides Expertise, Broadens Professional Experience on European Deployment

On a crisp March day, the engineer group hunkered in a rented van as the barge ferried them across the murky waters. The destination was a training area near the Danube River in a rural part of the Eastern European nation of Romania. While the river was turbid and opaque, the team’s mission in the country was clear: to train and prepare for upcoming deployments to other locations in Europe, where they would perform critical technical work for the Army and its partners.

Headquartered at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – Alaska District and staffed with engineering professionals from throughout USACE, the 62nd Forward Engineer Support Team – Advanced, or FEST-A, is one of eight expeditionary teams that provides rapidly deployable engineering capabilities throughout the world. Primarily composed of civilian employees, these critical personnel groups perform infrastructure damage assessments, environmental surveys and building plans in support of the Army’s mission abroad.

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“This team is a great way for employees throughout the enterprise to expand their experience,” said Maj. Chris Garceau, commander of the 62nd FEST-A. “It is an incredibly unique opportunity for civilians in the federal government to experience a different work environment and have a positive impact on Army readiness and the lives of servicemembers.”

Because of the importance of their mission, recruitment is a central focus for the 62nd FEST-A. Garceau joined Sgt. 1st Class Tommy Smith, non-commissioned officer-in-charge of the team, in hosting a recruiting event at the district headquarters to further this objective on Mar. 8.

Maj. Chris Garceau and Sgt. 1st Class Tommy Smith, officers-in-charge of the 62nd Forward Engineer Support Team – Advanced, hosted a recruitment session at the district headquarters on Mar. 8, 2024. At the event, members of the district’s workforce took the opportunity to learn about the team’s work and deployments and measure their own interest in participating in the program. USACE PHOTO BY CAMERON MCLEOD

At the session, employees had the opportunity to learn about the 62nd FEST-A and hear from district employees with prior experience on the team. Garceau and Smith provided a briefing of the group’s work, goals and potential benefits for employees interested in joining.

“Whatever your area of expertise, there is a place for you on the FEST-A,” Garceau said at the event. “Our varied mission set requires a talented and motivated team of professionals who are adaptable and willing to learn.”

For John Davi, mechanical engineer at the Sacramento District, participating as a member of the FEST-A team was a formative and enjoyable experience and a valuable component of his career. His time serving abroad was an educational and eye-opening experience, and he recommends the opportunity to USACE professionals who are seeking adventure and want to challenge themselves in a new and demanding environment.

“I first heard about positions with the 62nd FEST-A during a recruitment event in 2019,” he said. “The ability to work in locations throughout the world definitely caught my ear.”

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After consulting with his supervisor and receiving approval from his home district, Davi deployed with the team to Thailand later that year for a total of three weeks. He most recently joined the 62nd FEST-A’s deployment in June 2023, where the team performed infrastructure assessments and engineering work in Germany and Poland after completing their training near the rivers of Romania.

The team visited eight different sites in Poland on a weeklong trip, where they performed infrastructure assessments of military buildings including firing ranges and barracks. Davi cites the FEST-A’s close coordination with their Polish counterparts as a unique element of their work.

“It was incredibly rewarding to see our mission in Europe appreciated by the end users and understand their specific needs and approaches,” he said. “It is apparent to me that the team’s efforts are incredibly important in supporting the military efforts of our NATO partners.”

As part of his time with the 62nd FEST-A, Davi particularly enjoyed the opportunity to explore the continent during his free time on deployment. Wiesbaden, the team’s central location in Germany, is a historic city with excellent access to other areas of Europe.

“Traveling throughout Europe was one of my favorite parts of my time here,” he said. “Munich, Berlin, Paris, Brussels and many other European cities are incredibly close and require only a train ride to access them.”

In addition to these valuable career development opportunities, the camaraderie and relationships that he created with his teammates on his deployment have endured after returning.

Headquartered at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – Alaska District and staffed with engineering professionals from throughout USACE, the 62nd Forward Engineer Support Team – Advanced, or FEST-A, is one of eight expeditionary teams that provides rapidly deployable engineering capabilities throughout the world. Primarily composed of civilian employees, these critical personnel groups perform infrastructure damage assessments, environmental surveys and building plans in support of the Army’s mission abroad. USACE, ALASKA DISTRICT PHOTO

“I definitely stay in contact with the great people that I met through this program,” he said. “Our group forged some strong bonds while we were in Europe, and we may not have had the opportunity to meet without the 62nd FEST-A.”

Emily Turner, civil engineer in the Alaska District’s Civil and Sanitary Section, wanted to help servicemembers after growing up with a father who served in the U.S. Army. She pursued that goal with hands-on experience as a member of the 62nd FEST-A.

“I certainly enjoyed playing a role in the bigger picture of the Army’s mission,” she said. “Contributing to the needs of Soldiers and improving combat readiness in these areas was a personal area of interest that I was able to pursue directly with this group.”

During her father’s military commitment, Turner lived in Europe for most of her childhood. Her deployment with the 62nd FEST-A marked her first time on the continent as an adult, and she cherished the opportunity to meet friends and family in Paris and other cities.

“I relished living here as a child, and it was a fun experience to return, albeit in a new city,” she said. “Taking advantage of those travel opportunities during my free time was one of my favorite parts of my time with the group.”

According to Turner, infrastructure assessments comprised most of her engineering work in Germany and Poland. While observing and documenting military constructions at sites of interest, she gained familiarity with assets including the Automated Route Reconnaissance Kit, or ARRK, which can determine if a route is passable for military vehicles. Turner also learned to use programs including the Army’s Joint Construction Management System, which aided the team’s ability to provide timely and comprehensive evaluations of military infrastructure while on their deployment.

To be a positive contributor in the FEST-A environment, adaptability and a willingness to learn are valuable attributes. The team requires capable individuals with an open mind and an adventurous approach to achieve its goals.

“Participating with the 62nd FEST-A takes a certain kind of person,” she said. “As a member of this team, you will have to step out of your professional comfort zone to achieve your goals and execute the mission.”

After returning from her deployment, Turner recommends the 62nd FEST-A to anyone who is up for a challenge and wants to work in a unique and rewarding environment.

“Our mission is incredibly important to the Army,” she said. “The ability to directly have a positive effect with the FEST-A in the context of a volatile international landscape is an impactful experience.”

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