Foreign military sales program expert concludes 46-year engineering career
By Julie Shoemaker
Middle East District
WINCHESTER, Va. — Project Manager Ceasar Santucci retired from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Middle East District the end of March, completing more than 46 years combined military and civilian federal service.
A constant force within the district's Foreign Military Sales program since 1977, Santucci spent the past few years sharing his experiences and knowledge of FMS through classes for coworkers and mentoring other project managers, in an effort to capture his brain trust.
FMS is a component of the Defense Department's security assistance that transfers defense equipment, services, and training to other nations, and traditionally was the larger portion of the district's workload before 9/11.
"As Mr. FMS, Ceasar Santucci has mentored many staff members from both the Middle East District and Transatlantic Division on the nuances of the FMS program to ensure its successful continuity," Sears said.
"The Middle East District is losing a great, great asset and a fantastic person," said Roger Thomas, chief of Construction Operations Division, of the man he met in Saudi Arabia in 1977. "Ceasar Santucci is one of the most respected names in this organization for dealing with our customers in the Middle East."
Santucci served in the U.S. Army during the late 1960s and early 1970s in Korea and Germany, dealing directly with host nation officials and functioning within their very different cultures. In 1974, Santucci traded his uniform for a business suit but remained with USACE's Europe Division as a civilian office engineer, managing work with several German State construction offices.
"These experiences taught me the challenges of teaming with engineers and government administrators from another culture," he said. "I learned to speak German fairly well and was routinely asked to attend the German Finance Director's quarterly meetings between the U.S. and the German governments."
Santucci first became involved with the foreign military sales program in 1977 during the major USACE construction program in Saudi Arabia. With the Middle East Division, predecessor organization to the Middle East District, he served in Saudi Arabia as an office engineer for the Saudi Arabian National Guard Resident Office in Riyadh.
Crown Prince Abdullah was a frequent visitor on site, sometimes resulting in the unexpected. "I was once sent to Italy," Santucci said, "to inspect several quarries. I was to select marble for his office and a large piece of marble to be used for Prince Abdullah's main conference table. I would imagine that it is still there today.
"During another of Prince Abdullah's site visits, he requested we incise a Quranic inscription into the marble," Santucci said. "And then it was to be gold-filled. I was tagged to make it happen, to prepare and negotiate the change. How do you calculate the amount of gold leaf needed to fill an Arabic inscription? I can answer that -- with a lot of calculations."
The marble slab, to be displayed on a wall, was about one meter high by 10 meters long. "And this was back when gold was only $300 or $400 per ounce," he said. Today's rate is around $1,670 per ounce.
"This is about the time I began digging into the DISAM (Defense International Security Cooperation Management) manuals to learn all I could about the FMS process," he said. At this same time as construction manager for several SANG projects, he coordinated all the cases and amendments and gained considerable insight into dealing with the Arab culture.
In December 1980, Santucci accepted a position with the Middle East Division headquarters rear, at Mount Weather, Va., as construction manager for the King Khalid Military City. His principle responsibility was to coordinate and track all the action being accomplished for Al Batin District. He developed construction schedules, and once he identified significant issues in managing special contract provisions approval process, he developed a quality assurance process. That ultimately resulted in catching errors earlier and eliminated the need for many contract modifications and amendments as construction progressed at KKMC.
Two years later, Santucci moved to the contract negotiation branch as a lead negotiator. His responsibilities included preparing findings, collecting documentation for decisions leading to contract award and developing final written recommendations -- requiring considerable knowledge of federal contracting regulations and laws.
In 1984, Santucci was assigned as the resident engineer in Kuwait, establishing the office and developing a working relationship with the Kuwait Air Force.
"Initially, this was not easy because the commanding general of technical affairs did not support the Army Corps of Engineers' presence in Kuwait," he said. "But in time, the general became one of the Corps of Engineers' strongest supporters.
"We completed work on three Hawk missile sites, a missile maintenance facility, a logistical computer center, and an automated warehouse," he said. "But one of the most notable projects was constructing the Air Force flight training center for Kuwaiti officers and pilots. By 1990, Phase I of the training center was 100 percent complete and Phase II was underway. A large swimming pool for water survival training was 25 percent complete. Then, Iraqi soldiers occupied the training center. And then, the U.S. dropped bombs and the pool took a direct hit; cluster bombs exploded throughout the immediate area. Eighty percent of the marble façade was completely destroyed. The interiors of all the buildings were destroyed.
"Six years' work for our team there and in Winchester -- it was a shame to see it all destroyed," Santucci said.
Even though he and his family were evacuated during the Iraqi occupation, Santucci's legacy could be seen in the several Kuwaiti Air Force engineers he had trained. Several of these men went on to become senior engineers for the Kuwait Armed Forces and one became the Kuwait Ministry of Defense Engineer.
From 1990 to 2004, Santucci was primarily the senior project manager in the Winchester headquarters for the foreign military sales programs in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, and the Arab Republic of Egypt.
"One of my most interesting efforts was when the Corps of Engineers appointed me to serve as the U.S. delegate engineer to the Tri-Lateral peace conferences between Jordan, Israel and the U.S.
"I was one of eight delegates on the team," he said. "I facilitated the discussions concerning roads and prepared a report for the Department of State recommending possible border crossing scenarios. And one of them was selected and built."
Another career highlight came in 2003 and 2004 while working with the Kingdom of Bahrain Ministry of Transportation and Ministry of Public Works. He prepared and presented a plan for the possible joint execution of projects. These early discussion resulted in the Bahrainis providing funding and requesting USACE to enter into a formal support agreement -- discussions that continue today.
Other highlights from Santucci's career include being detailed by USACE to brief the Kenyan military on the possible development of a civilian corps of engineers; performing the initial planning coordination with Departments of State and Defense and Defense Security Cooperation Agency to develop the plan and funding for the King Abdullah II Special Operations Training Center; supervising FMS case preparation; drafting the first document outlining the FMS and Foreign Assistance Act processes for the USACE Commanding General in Iraq; making a presentation about USACE programs in Africa at the "AFRICAN CAN DO" conference; and developing the FMS agreement for the border security project for Egypt.
Since 2008, Santucci has served as one of the subject matter experts for USACE's FMS program, mentoring and supporting project managers new to the Corps of Engineers and to the FMS process. Looking back on his career and more than 35 years in FMS, Santucci shared some thoughts.
"The heyday for the Corps of Engineers' early FMS program was without a doubt the Saudi Arabian program," said Santucci. "We had more than a hundred cases, several of which were in the billions of dollars. In just one and a half decades, the Corps of Engineers accomplished a $14 billion program in design and construction.
"Imagine standing somewhere in a desert and turning a full circle, seeing absolutely nothing but blue sky and sand in every direction," he said, confirming that he had done just that at the start of the Saudi Arabia program. "Now imagine building a complete city in that desert with housing, schools, mosques, roads, utilities, everything a city needs for a population of 30,000. We did it, and that's a significant accomplishment.
"Of course, nowadays it is possible for a program to equal the magnitude of the Saudi program," he said, "but the business environment is so different and the risks involved would not be anywhere near as challenging as that early Corps of Engineers work during the Saudi program.
"In the late 1970s, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was just starting to modernize," he said. "To handle the huge volume of materials and supplies needed to accomplish the Saudi program, we first built a military port that could be dedicated to the influx of traffic and business. We had to first build ports and roads and temporary housing for at least 1,200 to 1,400 workers.
"In the late 1970s, we built the tank repair facility in Jordan, and when the area engineer had to leave unexpectedly I became the temporary area engineer to complete the balance of the work. Twenty years later, I went to Jordan to start a project with the Jordanian Armed Forces and was delighted to see that one of the engineer captains who had served with us on the tank project had become the commanding general of the JAF Engineer Corps. That's pretty neat," he said.
"Most programs today are smaller, generally between $2 million and $30 million," he said. "They just are not the mega-projects we had back then. But in my humble opinion, foreign military sales and foreign military financing will always play a role in U.S. foreign policy. In the long run, providing assistance to friendly host nations that practice good governance improves the security of the U.S. and stability of the region involved."
Finally, after completing enough chapters to fill a novel, Santucci is ready to begin a new story.
In a ceremony hosted by Lt. Col. Russell Sears, the district's deputy commander, Santucci received congratulatory letters from President Obama, Winchester Mayor Elizabeth Minor, Senator Mark Warner, and Congressman Frank Wolf. He also was presented with a superior civilian service award from Transatlantic Division Commander Maj. Gen. Kendall Cox and the Bronze Order of the de Fleury Medal.
The de Fleury is the professional excellence award for the Engineer Regiment, honoring significant contributions to Army engineering.
"I am extremely honored to receive the de Fleury Medal and even more so because it is signed by (Acting USACE Commanding General and Acting Chief of Engineers) Maj. Gen. (Merdith) Temple, whom I respect greatly as a leader," he said. "I am very proud for sure, but these awards are not mine alone. They are shared by so many great people, including my wife and family who provided their never-ending support. And by those who worked with me and for me over the years to accomplish the Corps mission. Each time I look at the de Fleury Medal, I will remember these many teammates. That type of effort is what will continue to make our organization a leader in providing support to U.S. and foreign customers.
"I have been working since I was about 15 years old. It will be an adjustment for me not to have to report for work. That will be my next challenge, and it will take me a day or two," Santucci joked, before noting that his family, which has been so supportive over the years, will receive more of his time and attention.
"I plan to spend more time with my wife, get back to my hobbies, read, and do some traveling. I also would like to assist students who are struggling with the sciences. Most importantly, we plan to spend time with our family and especially our four-year-old grandson. Without a doubt, there will be work of some sort to do in my not-too-distant future."