By Col. John K. Baker, P.E., M.SAME, USA, and John D. Hardesty  

The Europe District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and its 500 employees manage complex construction projects valued at $800 million annually in more than 40 countries. Combined with the ability to leverage the expertise of 37,000 USACE professionals worldwide, the team is delivering vital engineering solutions to support America’s national security interests across a vast region of the world—an estimated 16-million-mi2 of Europe, Africa and Israel.

Europe District has continued the Corps’ legacy of support in Europe since 1945, building through the Cold War, post-Cold War, and into the 21st Century. Borders have changed, North Atlantic Treaty Organization membership has grown, and a collaborative focus with such partners and stakeholders as U.S. European Command and U.S. Africa Command, the State Department, and foreign governments has become essential.

Building in the 21st Century requires project engineers and managers to adapt to unforeseen challenges and new opportunities worked through the Department of Defense Humanitarian Assistance program, an initiative for strengthening relationships with partners and allies. The Defense Security Cooperation Agency receives project proposals from European Command and Africa Command, which manage humanitarian assistance on their respective continents and partner with USACE Europe District through the planning, design and construction process. USACE is a Humanitarian Assistance Program essential partner in mission execution, developing partner capacity, and strengthening bilateral relations. Currently, Europe District is managing 52 projects totaling $19.4 million (30 projects in Europe and 22 projects in Africa, as well as pending work in the Caucasus Region).

The Department of Defense Humanitarian Assistance Program is the authority and funding source for Overseas Humanitarian, Disaster and Civic Aid for projects that include refurbishment and construction of medical facilities, construction of school buildings, digging of wells, improvement of sanitary facilities, and training host country personnel on disaster relief and emergency response planning.

IDENTIFYING OBSTACLES

Humanitarian assistance projects are planned for impoverished, unstable, and/or developing areas. In 2015, the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization estimated the global literacy rate for people age 15 and older at 86.3 percent. Baltic, Balkan and Caucasus countries where Europe District has humanitarian assistance projects were well above 97 percent, though there may be community caveats that drop below that threshold. In the African countries where we have humanitarian assistance projects, the reverse is prevalent with only Tunisia nearing the global literacy average at 81.8 percent.

Regional multiple award task order contracts help reduce the time and cost between design, contract award, and groundbreaking. More important than constructing a school or refurbishing a Cold War-era hospital, USACE measures success by the impact these projects have.

Operationally, many territorial concerns must be incorporated into the initial project plans. Building capacity for civilians from partner nations is essential. In addition, building standards vary by country or region. Training contractors to work with USACE, bid on contracts, and develop human capital is key to quality assurance. Similarly, training unskilled workers will raise workforce workmanship and bring short-term success.

Further challenges facing USACE engineers building humanitarian assistance projects in developing countries include transporting materials from incoming ports across borders, finding qualified contractors to bid on construction contracts, and a lack of skilled labor.

BUILDING HOPE

Success is underpinned by developing partnerships with host nation governments and with regional architecture and engineering firms. The key is assessing and developing an industrial base to deliver the work and proficiency through execution.

Regional multiple award task order contracts help reduce the time and cost between design, contract award, and groundbreaking. More important than constructing a school or refurbishing a Cold War-era hospital, USACE measures success by the impact these projects have. Relatively low-investment, high-impact projects bring emotionally charged appreciation from civic leaders and are building hope in African communities for the future.

Over the past few years, Europe District’s construction view has taken on complete building envelope renovations. This holistic approach takes the basic structural setup (roof, windows and façade) and combines supporting elements into the renovation such as heating, electricity, hygiene latrines, gutters and other supporting infrastructure. An entire school is being built for the cost of around $400,000.

In the Baltics, several projects are targeting civic emergency preparedness and regional emergency response, including fire station renovations. In Estonia, Europe District is renovating the East Tallinn Central Hospital Amputee Care Center to service veterans while developing an integrated, interdisciplinary approach to medical care. In Riga, Latvia, we renovated a District Ambulance Support Station and an Emergency Operations Center, reducing police, fire and ambulance dispatch-to-medical response times, which are crucial for the nearly 290,000 citizens in the region reliant on emergency services. Another project renovated a Cold War-era hospital into a modern emergency dispatch center—dramatically improving emergency response times for more than 262,000 people.

In the Balkans, we are renovating special needs schools, and elementary and high schools in Albania. The work will enable students and teachers to focus on education without concerns of unsafe building conditions. A development center for persons with severe disabilities and a hospital trauma center are also being renovated.

REGIONAL SUPPORT

In the Caucasus, Europe District completed a $952,000 Asylum Seekers’ Reception Center project in Martkopi, Georgia, in 2016. Funded by European Command, and managed in partnership with the U.S. Embassy Tbilisi’s Office of Defense Cooperation, the project added 13,562-ft², two-story wings to the existing reception center—more than doubling its capacity. The facility provides shelter for an additional 75 asylum seekers for an average stay of six months. The facility is equipped with an upgraded boiler system and water storage tank. A challenge building in the region is there were no handicapped regulations. The Georgian Ministry of Health worked with the Office of Defense Cooperation, Bilateral Affairs Officer, to get the Karaleti Health Clinic in cycle. These challenges were mitigated by requiring Host Nation and Architectural Barriers Act Accessibility standards in the statement of work.

Another recent European Command project in Moldova focuses on improving water sanitation systems in schools. The Inter-Ethnic Integration in Education Project is a multi-year collaborative initiative with the U.S. Agency for International Development that renovates schools across the country as an incentive for successful integration of students from different ethnic backgrounds. The project began in 2014 and has been so successful that it has expanded every year.

Over the past few years, Europe District’s construction view has taken on complete building envelope renovations. This holistic approach takes the basic structural setup (roof, windows and façade) and combines supporting elements into the renovation such as heating, electricity, hygiene latrines, gutters and other supporting infrastructure.

In Africa, Europe District and Africa Command are building more than 10 schools and eight health centers or medical and research facilities to improve quality of care for communities in several countries, investing an estimated $10 million annually. From a programmatic approach, Africa Command develops plans and projects. USACE awards contracts and oversees construction. Europe District is building five schools and a community health center in Benin and a school and a kindergarten in Sao Tome and Principe. In Togo, five schools and three health centers are being constructed, one of which, a kindergarten in Ephphatha, is the first official kindergarten for hearing impaired children in the country.

LONG-TERM IMPACT

Humanitarian assistance work is an important part of the Europe District portfolio. While their significance may be overshadowed by larger projects within the district’s area of operation, their long-term impact cannot be overstated. We are proud of the partnerships with the Combatant Commands, the State Department, and host nation governments to promote stability in these volatile, risk-intensive areas, and to support U.S. national security interests.


Col. John K. Baker, P.E., M.SAME, USA, is Commander, and John D. Hardesty is Public Affairs Officer, USACE Europe District. They can be reached at john.k.baker@usace.army. mil.; and john.d.hardesty@usace.army.mil.

[Article first published in the November-December 2017 issue of The Military Engineer.]