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Memphis District engineers: making global local


Pictured from left to right in uniform, Afghanistan District Project Manager Marshand Whittington (Baltimore District) and Deputy Chief for Programs and Project Management Lawrence Thomas (Memphis District) join Afghan nationals for a project site visit to Kandahar Air Field.


Pictured clockwise from bottom left, Shane Boehmer, Neal Newman, Michael Lamport (all from the Memphis District) prepare to leave for an on-site visit to USACE projects in Afghanistan with which they were assisting.


From a conference room in the Memphis District, team members confer with colleagues in Afghanistan via telephone to discuss engineering challenges.

From their offices in Memphis, Tennessee, engineers with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) provide Enterprise support to other divisions and districts needing solutions to their engineering challenges. Memphis District provides engineering services that include planning, engineering design, cost engineering, and construction management to USACE organizations with overseas missions.

The work is done through a process called reachback engineering, and Memphis District dubs these faraway challenges “making global local.”

The Memphis District’s reachback engineering capability allows Department of Defense personnel deployed around the world to tap into the expertise and knowledge of engineers and other subject matter experts back in the United States. With this capability, the district creates a value chain delivering lean, efficient, and progressive solutions for complex engineering challenges that are difficult to achieve at a deployed location with limited expertise and resources.

The best example of this is the support the district provides to USACE teams working in Iraq and Afghanistan said Donny Davidson, Memphis District’s chief of Engineering and Construction.

The district is now a partner to the USACE Transatlantic Division for several projects in the U.S. Central Command area of operations, particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan, and it has assisted others such as the 395th Engineer Detachment, Forward Engineering Support Team-Advanced (FEST-A). Past projects include cost engineering support for Afghan National Police projects and technical support to the Mekong River Commission.

Drawing from experience he gained while deployed to Iraq, Davidson and others are developing and refining this reachback capability using a regional approach.

“I returned from a deployment to Iraq in June 2017,” Davidson said. “Based on my experiences there activating Task Force Essayons (in Iraq), and previous attempts to use reachback engineering, we began working on an Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) reachback model that included both accountability and flexibility to better serve our deployed personnel. Lawrence Thomas, Afghanistan District’s deputy chief of Programs and Project Management, and Memphis District OCO managers Matt Turner and Jordan Bledsoe were key in this initiative.

“We stood up the Mississippi Valley Division OCO initiative to enhance delivery and support to our deployed USACE teams,” Davidson continued. “We built a business plan based on what was needed by our people overseas. These included dedicated resourcing, accountability, flexible schedules, and the ability to deploy to the overseas location as needed.”

Davidson said he and the other authors of the initiative created and activated three fully disciplined and dedicated regional engineering teams with past vertical, OCO or military construction (MILCON) expertise. These teams can provide turnkey projects that are ready for immediate construction.

Gregory Taylor, Transatlantic Division’s Engineering and Technical chief, said the initiative provides a critical surge capability for projects required quickly.

“Memphis District has deployable teams trained and ready to respond immediately to engineering needs in support of contingency operations,” Taylor said. “Whether the need is value engineering, design services, or design charrettes, Memphis teams are providing valuable Enterprise support for our missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Roger Vogler, who served as chief of engineering in Afghanistan District for the past year and is now serving in the same role in the Middle East District, explained that the Transatlantic Division’s business model for contingency districts is to have minimal staff forward deployed and maximize the level of support provided by reachback personnel throughout the U.S.-based districts. This results in Afghanistan District’s Engineering Branch having a staff of only five engineers. Therefore, half or more of all the District’s projects with engineering effort must be provided by U.S. district engineering staff.

Vogler said, “Fortunately, USACE districts such as Memphis have been available and willing to provide this necessary technical support. The U.S. and coalition construction missions in Afghanistan would not be possible without this reachback capability.”

“Reports I’ve received from the leadership at the Transatlantic Division, the Afghanistan District, and Task Force Essayons have been very positive,” Davidson said. “They are pleased with results and that’s good news since the buck stops with me.”

Emilija Kolevski, the current chief of Engineering and Technical Services in Afghanistan District, said the Memphis District deployable teams have the unique opportunity to gain invaluable experience and training that can only be gained forward and will have long term benefits for USACE in Afghanistan.

The district's reachback engineering capabilities have supported projects in Afghanistan such as the construction and commissioning of an Afghan National Army wing in Kabul; aviation enhancements for the Afghan Air Force in Kandahar; a compound at Mazar-e Sharif, and the Presidential Air Wing in Kabul, Afghanistan.  Additionally, a team of five engineers recently deployed to Kandahar, Afghanistan, to directly support the Afghanistan District.

The district is currently supporting projects such as a training facility in Lanhman Province, Afghanistan; review of architect-engineer and construction submittals and requests for information for a variety of projects managed by Task Force Essayons; supporting contracting activities of the Afghanistan District; and preparing reports with a rough order of magnitude regarding the cost of making critical repairs.

The Memphis District team of reachback engineers can travel to areas like Afghanistan and Iraq for 10 to 15 day intervals to see projects first-hand and meet with the personnel they are supporting. Memphis District civil engineer Michael Lamport is a member of the team and recently returned from Afghanistan.

“Deploying to Afghanistan was an adventure!” Lamport said. “It was a great opportunity to see and experience what our deployed engineers do and how they live and work. This trip gave me a better understanding of what the needs are for design and engineering projects in OCONUS (outside the continental United States) theaters, how projects need to be designed, how the Corps of Engineers interacts with Afghan citizens who assist the Afghanistan District with carrying out their projects, and how the projects aid our country’s national security efforts.”

Mandy Yeomans, an engineer working in the Corps’ St. Louis District, is also on this team.

“The trip to Afghanistan was a great experience!” Yeomans said. “It was important to be able to meet those we have been supporting as well as see the projects in person rather than photos. After the trip, I am better able to understand how projects are completed OCONUS and how to provide a better end product to support those who are deployed.”

Davidson said the reachback team is now working on a Memorandum of Understanding for support to Transatlantic Division that will provide more predictability to how TAD plans and resources their work.

“We’re always looking for new ways to effectively use reachback to meet the engineering challenges and opportunities the Corps tackles every day around the world,” he said.

Joan Kibler, Transatlantic Division, contributed to this story.