Europe realignment, consolidation among key themes at annual USACE workshop

Published March 21, 2015
WIESBADEN, Germany – Top engineers have begun outlining the steps they’ll take in two major programs to bolster allies while streamlining U.S. forces and assets in Europe over the next several years.

Discussions about the European Reassurance Initiative and European Infrastructure Consolidation came during the 2015 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Europe District Partner Workshop. About 90 representatives from more than 70 organizations within the European Command and Africa Command operational theaters took part in the annual session. It’s designed to promote open dialogue, address collective concerns, create common understanding, and strengthen relationships in construction and project delivery.

This year’s workshop took place Feb. 19 at Clay Kaserne.

“The main purpose here is to bring together our partners to discuss best practices and lessons learned so that we may better serve and deliver our projects and services to them,” said Deputy District Engineer Mark Roncoli. “This event has provided a forum for a vast engineer community discussion that currently doesn’t exist elsewhere in theater. Each year, our partner workshop has aided our mutual understanding.”

The EIC process will return 15 sites to their host nations and save the U.S. government about $500 million annually, the Department of Defense announced in January.

Meanwhile, the ERI provides $1 billion to enable the United States to further support NATO defense and reinforce the security and capacity of U.S. partners. It allows the alliance to continue taking actions that increase the capability, readiness and responsiveness of NATO forces to address evolving threats and concerns affecting regional stability.

The U.S. hopes to build capacity in newer allies, along with Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova. The package also enhances U.S. rotations to Europe for training and exercises, boosting stocks of equipment and assets.

Alongside EUCOM, U.S. Army Europe and U.S. Air Forces in Europe, Europe District will manage infrastructure improvement and military construction projects at key locations in Eastern Europe, officials said. These sites will serve U.S. and NATO training requirements, as well as support contingency operations. In addition, ERI funds will allow the district to execute improvements to airfields, training ranges and operations centers.

Lalit Wadhwa, chief of Europe District’s Program Management Branch, said USACE’s workload will dramatically increase to support the ERI, requiring the setup of new field offices in the Baltics, Balkans and Poland.

“It’s a very exciting program, expanding in the East,” he told the audience. “But it’s changing all the time. It will involve a huge amount of work.”

Through fiscal year 2020, the district expects to execute about $700 million in MILCON and FSRM [facilities, sustainment, restoration and modernization] projects between the ERI and EIC programs, Wadhwa said.

Air Force engineers said EIC looks to “realign and right-size” USAFE with the closure of three installations in the United Kingdom: RAF Mildenhall, RAF Alconbury and RAF Molesworth. It also will downsize Lajes Field in the Azores and realign missions to RAF Croughton and RAF Lakenheath in the U.K.; Spangdahlem and Ramstein air bases in Germany; and Aviano Air Base, Italy.

“When we do mission changes, we bring airplanes from one location to another,” said Joe Dunkle, chief of the Design and Construction Branch at the Air Force Civil Engineer Center’s Europe Division on Ramstein. “That involves a lot of MILCON.”

Overall, the Air Force is planning about 60 projects for EIC valued at over $425 million, said Megan Robare, an AFCEC program manager at Ramstein. Europe District will execute about 25 jobs totaling $350 million. The projects – ranging from airfield aprons and hangars to squadron operations facilities and wing headquarters – involve relocating Mildenhall’s Special Operations Group and KC-135 refueling aircraft to Spangdahlem and Ramstein, respectively.

She said ERI ventures will sustain future joint training and other NATO activities across Central and Eastern Europe with projects to increase fuel capacity, provide aircraft hangar space, and improve airfields, weapons storage and support facilities. The Air Force ERI program consists of more than 75 construction or renovation projects worth about $180 million.

USACE’s portion includes 20 MILCON and seven FSRM projects amounting to an aggregate $85 million, Robare added. The work, which covers design and construction, will take place in Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Bulgaria, Romania and Poland over the next several years.

“Europe District is heavily involved in everything we’ll be doing. Our folks are in close coordination with Lalit and his team,” she said. “USACE’s role is vital to the success of both the ERI and EIC programs, with the Corps of Engineers being the execution agent for approximately $435 million worth of construction to be designed and constructed in about five years. Cooperation and communication between the two services will be instrumental in facilitating these programs, which will – in the end – strengthen the alliance we have with our European partners.”

Europe District launched the Partner Workshop in 2011 to give stakeholders a forum to review program and project performance, sharpen coordination and identify methods for improving the way they conduct business. Organizers say it’s a chance to swap experiences and ideas with project managers and district leaders.

“We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us,” said Jack Matthews, the district’s new Project Management Branch chief. “But if we figure out how to stand together and collaborate, there’s a lot of smart people in the room [and] a lot of smart people on your staffs. As long as we continue the dialogue and we’re proactive about it … we can get it done. Together, we can make the difference we need to make.”

Roger Gerber, director of U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden’s Transformation Stationing and Management Office, compared his team’s connection with USACE to that of a marriage.

“As long as we’re talking, it works. If we ever stop talking, we’re in trouble,” Gerber said, adding he takes pride in the projects they’ve forged together in recent years – including the Newman Village Housing Area, USAREUR’s Shalikashvili Mission Command Center and Lt. Gen. Robert E. Gray Cyber Center Europe.

“It all comes down to working on that relationship. Then, you build trust – and you can pick up the phone, solve a problem and get things done.”

Other agenda topics last month focused on training opportunities, environmental impacts, operations and maintenance programs, demolition, energy, sustainability and contracting.

“It is all about accomplishing the mission,” said Col. Matthew Tyler, also attending his first workshop as district commander. “We highlighted all sorts of areas where we can better improve how we accomplish that mission. I absolutely appreciate the depth of discussion that we had today on how we can work together.”