SAVANNAH, Ga. – Four months after launching into a six-month deployment to Southwest Asia, Savannah, Georgia’s Forward Engineering Support Team – Advance convened to discuss the support they’d provided in the region and assignments on the horizon.
The team works under the direction of the Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve engineer section. CJTF provides an organizing framework designed to synchronize and integrate capabilities and amplify the efforts of the 60-plus member coalition nations. The ultimate goal of the coalition is to degrade and defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, said Maj. Jason Winkelmann, 542nd FEST-A commander.
Their nomadic adventures across various countries in Southwest Asia have tested the team’s capacity to provide first-rate engineering solutions in the sprawling arid landscape, Winkelmann said. Over the past couple of months the team has been introduced to new territory spatially and professionally, as many of them have performed tasks for the first time in their careers.
They conducted Unified Facility Criteria detailed evaluations on more than 100 buildings at one location to identify life, health and safety issues in the areas of structural, electrical, mechanical and fire protection. The results of the assessments will be used to improve conditions for U.S. forces occupying bases in the region, according to Winkelmann.
“We’ve done a lot of things that we trained on back in the United States, but it’s different executing in a deployed environment and delivering a product,” he said.
Pre-deployment training didn’t prepare them for all they’d encountered, Winkelmann said.
“We were assigned tasks that we hadn’t trained on,” he said. “We had no idea we’d be assigned the UFC detailed evaluations, so we had to figure that out in-country. Everyone on the team has a small part that plays in the bigger piece, and now, about halfway through the deployment, we’re getting good at all of our tasks.”
Second in command, Sgt. 1st Class Demetrius Moore, championed the first-class support the team imparted in the region.
“This is my first time working with civilians,” said Moore. “I observe a lot. Understanding personalities or what makes them successful has been eye-opening. These guys go over and beyond and have very strong work ethics.”
The tight-knit group of people, who typically spend 10-12 hours, six days a week working collectively, attribute the team unity to the deployment.
“We’ve been lucky because everybody gets along and is in the same mindset,” Winkelmann said. “They want to be here and get the job done. I think the key to our success is that everybody is here for the right reasons.”
Despite the team’s busy schedule, they find time to transform into fierce competitors during team-building activities, often sponsored by the base Morale, Welfare and Recreation office. Recreation often breaks the monotony of extended workdays, said Winkelmann. However, with more than 7,000 miles separating the team from home, the team admitted coping with distance can be taxing. Piper Bazemore, FEST-A topographer, said web-based video calling applications helps keep the team linked to friends and family in the states.
Winkelmann, a new father six weeks before departing, said he’s watching his infant son grow through family photos and videos sent from home.
“My son will be seven and a half months when I return,” he said. “So it’s hard. I’m looking forward to getting back to seeing (my family).”
But with time still left in country, the team prepares for new projects that Winkelmann said will leave a tactical footprint that fortifies larger unified command strategic efforts in the region.
“We may get caught up in the details of designing a plan, but the effect of that plan has a great impact,” he said. “While conducting detailed evaluations to help fix infrastructure for our Soldiers, the team produced 3,000 pages of documents on the condition of the base’s buildings and found over 2,000 issues that cost approximately 3 million dollars to fix. These are important issues to relay to leadership. We’re supporting a mission that makes a difference in the lives of our Soldiers.”