USACE bolsters European reassurance effort

USACE Europe District
Published June 4, 2015
WIESBADEN, GERMANY -- U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Europe District will manage more construction in Eastern and Central Europe this year than it has in the past 40 years combined.

Over the next three years, the district will execute up to 145 military construction and facilities sustainment, restoration and modernization projects in Poland, the Baltics and Balkans as part of the $1 billion European Reassurance Initiative to support NATO allies and U.S. partners in the region.

U.S. European Command, U.S. Army Europe and U.S. Air Forces in Europe have called on Europe District, and other engineer support organizations, to manage and execute infrastructure improvement and military construction projects at key locations throughout Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Romania. The projects will assist with NATO and U.S. training and exercise requirements, prepositioning of equipment, housing of rotational forces and preparing for contingency operations.

The facilities required for these activities do not exist right now, at least not in optimal conditions, said Air Force Lt. Col. Michael Staples, the EUCOM Infrastructure Branch chief.

"We, DOD, want to provide a visible U.S. presence to those in the region who feel the most threatened by Russia," he said. "ERI demonstrates the importance Congress and the president have placed on Europe and our NATO allies. A $276.4 million investment in construction projects, in such a short amount of time, is very significant."

According to a EUCOM news release, construction projects will support an enduring presence in the European area of responsibility to allow U.S. forces to work closer with partner nations through rotational deployments. USAERUR and USAFE have identified projects Europe District will manage to support land forces and air operations.

The district will aid USAREUR engineers in improving firing ranges, life-support and storage facilities, and infrastructure at host-nation training areas.

Many projects designed for joint training missions are funded with FSRM one-year expiring money, said Edward Argueta, a Europe District Project Management Section chief.

"That means we need to execute very quickly," he said. "We embed ourselves with USAREUR to visit sites, define project requirements, develop scopes of work, provide technical environmental and engineering support, and get the contract solicitations out. We plan to award to industry by the end of the fiscal year."

USAREUR is attempting to increase availability of modern training facilities in the six identified ERI countries, said Maj. Brian Sawser, a USAREUR Engineer Division operations officer.

"We need modern facilities to conduct quality training at remote locations in Eastern Europe," he said. "Once the projects are delivered, U.S., NATO and host-nation soldiers will train at sites with increased capacity."

With five months left in the fiscal year, the ERI construction workload is piled high. USAREUR engineers -- with the support of Europe District, the NATO Support Agency and troop construction -- aim to execute 10 times the average annual project workload by the end of September.

"USACE is carrying the bulk of the work in at least four of the ERI countries," Sawser said.

Matt Bryant, a Europe District project manager, recently returned from a Poland site visit where he, and a team of colleagues, looked at 32 potential construction sites.

"A lot of what we did on the ground was figure out what we could do to make the ranges or life-support areas better for Soldiers," Bryant said. "We don't get that opportunity much in the Corps -- to develop projects to support both U.S. and host nation Soldiers."

The challenge with ERI work is not that it's overly complex, but that it's urgent, Bryant said.

"They are not complicated projects -- fuel-storage facilities and motor pools -- but they require a different approach," he added.

District project managers are working with USACE counterparts at Huntsville's Range and Training and Omaha's Fuel Systems and Airfield Pavements centers of expertise to ensure projects are being planned and scoped properly.

"We are leveraging USACE-wide support for ERI," Argueta said. "Internally, we have folks in environmental, planning, contracting, legal, installation support and cost engineering involved in this effort. It's an exciting time; we have this massive ERI program to complete in short order."

Historically, Europe District's work in the Baltics and Poland has been primarily humanitarian assistance, rather than MILCON or FSRM. The new ERI workload is a shift in the type of construction being performed in the region and it's bringing a lot of change, said Greg Bishop, a Europe District project manager.

"While the U.S. has been here in the past, the overall U.S. military presence is more obvious now," he said.

The Air Force is also working with Europe District to manage a portion of USAFE's $180 million ERI program. The district will assist with 20 MILCON and seven FSRM projects amounting to an aggregate $85 million.

Projects to sustain air operations for future joint training and other NATO activities include increasing fuel-storage capacity, providing aircraft hangar space, improving airfields, and building or renovating weapons storage and support facilities, said Megan Robare, an Air Force Civil Engineer Center Europe Division program manager at Ramstein Air Base.

"Europe District is heavily involved in everything we'll be doing," she said.

The Air Force is using a multipronged approach to tackle this work -- calling on different engineering agencies to work in tandem, said Joe Dunkle, chief of the Design and Construction Branch at AFCEC Europe Division.

"Out in the field, through USACE, we have jumped in to support the development of project requirements," he said. "This is normally a task performed at the base level, but since we don't own any of these bases, there is no one to do it out there. So we're in good lockstep with our USACE partners to produce strong and defendable programming documents to submit to Congress."

AFCEC plans to award all projects as soon as possible so missions can continue and USAFE can ramp up where capabilities are currently lacking.

"We are also using a design-build strategy as a way to cut time off of procurement, acquisition and construction schedules," he said.

In addition to time, resources present a challenge to executing the heavy ERI workload, officials said. AFCEC is working to ensure office manpower matches workload. Europe District is also staffing up in the Project Management Branch to manage the influx.

Executing ERI projects on an expedited timeline requires an incredible team effort, Staples said.

"It involves Army, Air Force, USACE, NATO Support Agency, State Department and the host nations," he added. "With less than a year to execute, we needed to put on the afterburners -- this is a huge blending of everyone leaning forward to get these projects awarded."