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News | March 24, 2021

Virtual Collaboration Allows Critical Project to Stay on Track

By Joe Macri Middle East District

Most U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) districts have projects that can stretch hundreds of miles from their district’s physical location. Ensuring these projects are delivered on time, while upholding the high standards that USACE’s mission partners expect, can be a challenge.  The USACE Transatlantic Middle East District (TAM) is no exception.  TAM projects are being accomplished thousands of miles from their headquarters in austere locations, in a region known for conflict.  Add numerous restrictions in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and even relatively simple projects can become challenging.

Fortunately, with many decades of experience executing their mission throughout the Middle East, TAM is well versed in doing what the USACE does best – finding innovative solutions to even the toughest construction challenges.   

A current project in Iraq, to bring Imam Ali Air Base up to operational capability, demonstrates TAM’s innovation.  The project involves extensive refurbishment and renovation to the Air Traffic Control Tower (ATCT) building.  It includes new ATCT equipment, supporting airfield electrical power and communications infrastructure, backup power improvement, installation of new ILS/DME and TACAN systems; and a potential renovation of the existing airfield lighting system.  Accomplishing this involves extensive coordination among the Iraqi Air Force, the Aerospace Management Systems Division, Air Force Life Cycle Management Center (AFLCMC/HBA) at Hanscom Air Force Base, TAM and Memphis Districts, all while respecting the COIVD restrictions in place.

“From a cooperation perspective, this story really shows what the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers does best,” said Joseph Zaraszczak, Chief of the TAM project management branch responsible for work in Iraq.  “One of the things we tell our customers is that when you work with USACE, you don’t just get the district you work with, but also the expertise of the entire U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  In this case, our district did not have the subject matter experts in towers and airfield engineering design that Memphis District does. The Memphis team, had more bandwidth to take on this portion of the project.” 

In the face of the pandemic, the teams in Virginia and Memphis had to innovate how they performed detailed design work on the communications and fire protection portion of the project. Normally in-person, in-country site investigation work would be required to execute this vital program milestone.  A site survey to ascertain restoration tasks to ready the Imam Ali AB ATCT was required - however, due to travel bans to Iraq, an innovative solution was needed. 

Jordan Bledsoe, the Memphis District’s technical manager on the project noted the considered the site survey an achievement offering a lot of detail.

“Real time capabilities were tested a couple times with success.  A checklist was sent to the assessment team just in case we experienced technical difficulties. The real time survey proceeded from room to room, floor to floor.  Clarifications and questions were asked as needed and most were answered instantaneously.  Additionally video was taken during the assessment and has been used in the advancement of the contract documents," said Bledsoe.

Collin Manzo, the AFLCMC/HBA Program Manager for the Iraq Foreign Military Sales case, offered his impression of the coordination required as well. “Not only has this case highlighted coordination and cooperation between the US Army Corps of Engineers and US Air Force, but the team has been innovative in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.” 

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Air Force team came up with a plan where a site survey was conducted by Corps of Engineers contracted personnel onsite in Iraq.  Manzo adds “though we could not physically attend the site survey we were able to provide survey guidance to the onsite personnel beforehand that enabled them to conduct the ATCT walk through.  This survey provided the required detail and necessary fidelity to the tower restoration design requirements.”  

In addition, AFLCMC/HBA conducted a virtual survey using Google Earth to locate ILS/DME and TACAN systems, and depict ancillary infrastructure cable paths on the airfield.  These successful innovations allowed the program to stay on schedule and move forward, despite the impact of COVID.

The program office elected to leverage the civil engineer expertise of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to manage the ATCT restoration effort.  This approach utilizes the unique expertise of both organizations to create synergy and provide a superior overall end-item to the international stakeholder.  AFLCMC/HBA, who facilitated the project for the Iraqi Air Force said the project is important because it builds the capacity of a foreign partner to augment the US in combating terrorism and enhancing security in the region in accordance with US National Security policy.