District Achieves Another First for Tribal Program
By Ronna Schelby and Ron Kneebone
In the first meeting of its kind, Robert Isenberg and Maj. Seth Wacker, members of the South Pacific Division's 59th Forward Engineering Support Team - Advanced (FEST) joined Albuquerque District Tribal Liaison Ron Kneebone in a visit with representatives of two New Mexico Pueblos Dec. 14 and 15. They met with the Pueblo of Santa Clara and the Pueblo de Cochiti to provide the Native American tribes with critically needed engineering support to address local infrastructure issues and to provide FEST members with real-world training.
Like most small, rural communities, Native American tribes deal with numerous infrastructure challenges on a daily basis. The purpose of these initial meetings with the FEST team was to identify the most urgent infrastructure challenges that these tribes face. Santa Clara identified disruptions in provision of fresh water as the highest priority. Pueblo de Cochiti selected wastewater treatment as their most pressing challenge.
The FEST team is part of the Corps' Field Force Engineering program. Each division has a FEST attached to it. When deployed, the teams work with small, diverse communities who usually have only limited resources. Their normal mission is to provide engineer recommendations to the communities, often in support of Overseas Contingency Operations. They evaluate functions like the sewer, water, environmental impact, academics, trash and technical engineering where they visit.
Working with Native American tribes in the United States is very similar to working with the smaller groups of individuals when the FEST team is deployed. When not deployed, each team maintains continuous training in order to maintain high levels of performance.
The 59th FEST currently has one civil and one environmental engineer, but a team normally has two civil engineers, a mechanical engineer, an electrical engineer, an environmental engineer and a cartographer. A team also includes a Sgt. 1st Class who is the noncommissioned officer in charge.
According to Wacker, the 59th's full team is expected to be assembled by the time they return to the Albuquerque District in March. At that time, they will meet with both Pueblos again to share their recommendations.
"This initial meeting is a milestone for the Corps; it was the first encounter of the FEST team with any tribal nation," Kneebone said. "The Assistant Secretary of the Army, other FEST teams throughout the country and other Corps tribal liaisons will be closely monitoring this pilot study."
According to Kneebone, if this mission proves successful, it may be extended nationwide to involve the entire FEST program.