WIESBADEN, Germany – The eight remaining members of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Europe District’s Forward Engineer Support Team-Advanced are back on German soil after a highly successful deployment to Jordan.
The team of Soldiers, Army civilian volunteers and augmentees returned Feb. 26 following a six-month mission that included infrastructure, environmental, and airfield assessments and expansion planning to build the ally nation’s capabilities. The FEST-A was part of a special U.S. task force, which also is helping provide aid for hundreds of thousands of refugees displaced by the brutal civil war in neighboring Syria.
Col. Peter Helmlinger, district commander, greeted the group at Frankfurt Airport before it was transported to Wiesbaden.
“The team’s performance was remarkable and earned high praise from the CENTCOM (Forward) commander,” Helmlinger said. “They demonstrated the value and versatility of USACE FESTs for missions beyond what has been performed in Afghanistan and Iraq for the past decade. Expeditionary missions like this are the future for FESTs.”
The team is comprised mostly of civil, electrical, mechanical and environmental engineers. It relies on individuals with solid project management, base camp development and other skill sets. The unit was stood up six years ago to provide technical engineer support and conduct consequence management and stability operations in support of military and civilian agencies.
Since its formation in 2008, Europe District’s FEST-A has deployed to Afghanistan and participated in exercises in Uganda, Germany, Niger, Italy, Alaska and California.
Overall, 16 personnel served on the Jordan campaign, but no more than 14 were deployed at any given time, said Sgt. 1st Class Jeffrey Guida, the unit’s prime power supervisor and later its non-commissioned officer-in-charge. He was set to return to the 249th Engineer Battalion at Fort Belvoir, Va.
“The team was successful in every aspect,” he said. “The knowledge, expertise and efficiency of the team were unsurpassed, and together, the members accomplished all projects and tasks that were assigned. Also, the team laid the groundwork for any follow-on engineering support that will arise in the future.”
Prior to its late August departure, the Europe District team mobilized rapidly and engaged in a swift training stint and buildup around Wiesbaden. In Jordan, the job frequently called for 11-hour workdays, six days a week.
Guida said the threat level was relatively low during the deployment, despite the Syrian instability, as many Jordanians share phases of Western culture, particularly in Amman. There were no incidents among FEST-A members.
The team assessed several locations throughout the country, he added, and worked diligently on concepts, costs and timelines to assist U.S. planners in any future development, if required.
“They proved our relevance,” said Greg McMillan, Europe District’s military contingency planner. “When push came to shove, they were ready. This group of Soldiers and Army civilians didn’t really know each other but came together, got trained up in a short amount of time and knocked it out of the park.”
Upon landing in Frankfurt, several were just happy to be home.
“It feels great,” said Rick Long, a FEST-A civil engineer who handled airfield engineering functions toward the end. “It was really neat just getting off the plane out on the tarmac with the weather, the crisp air, the clean smell. Everything felt great. Then, of course, the drive to the hotel, looking out and seeing all the green grass and trees. That was good to see again.”
On a previous deployment, Long spent 20 months in Iraq. Jordan was a far different place, he said.
“It’s a very modern country compared to what I experienced in Iraq and other places in the Middle East,” he added. “They’re very Westernized and very friendly and peaceful people. They seem to like the Americans being there. Most speak English, too, and they speak it very well.”
Long joined the FEST-A in early October, about a month into its deployment. He said the unit worked long hours but had incredible chemistry, both on and off duty.
“I’ve never experienced such a group of people that blended so well together. Everybody got along like brothers and sisters,” he said. “We basically spent 24 hours a day together – we roomed together, we worked together and we traveled together. … Everybody had a specialty, and every piece of the puzzle fit. It was just perfect. I’m very proud of the work we did there as a team.”
Team members and district officials praised the leadership and organization skills of Capt. Shai-Lin Ynacay, the FEST-A commander and a project engineer in the Ramstein Resident Office.
She said the tasking was fairly complex, especially with Jordan being a new theater for the United States. The team’s work helped enhance Jordan’s stability and laid a foundation for future FEST efforts there.
“The mission itself was very challenging, but we got through it fine. It just took a lot of working together and coordination,” she said. “You’re basically starting everything from scratch. There’s no set way of doing things, other than what we’ve learned before in Iraq and Afghanistan. It was really good to try to implement better ways of doing things.
“They did really well, especially being an ad hoc team from the beginning, not knowing each other at all and only having about two weeks of training together. We came together really well and worked as a team to get the mission done. That was the main focus.”
Long, meanwhile, is headed back to his job as a project engineer at Europe District’s Spangdahlem Project Office. He said he was also anxious to reunite with his daughters – Rebecka, 20, and 18-year-old Mikayla.
“It’ll be good just to get back home and sleep in my own bed,” he joked. “[But] I really, really enjoyed this experience. Jordan is a beautiful place. There’s a lot of biblical history there that was interesting to see. We also worked hard and did a lot of good while we were there. It was a great mission, but I’m happy to be back in Germany.”