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Posted 6/7/2012

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By Jennifer Aldridge
Europe District

SLUNJ, Croatia — A U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Forward Engineering Support Team-Advance traveled to Latvia, Estonia and Croatia May 8-19, 2012 to provide technical engineering expertise including route reconnaissance and structural assessments in support of U.S. Army Europe-led Saber Strike and Immediate Response exercises.

As the structure of U.S. forces in Europe transforms, participation in exercises with NATO allies and other partners is expected to increase, according to Navy Vice Adm. Charles Martoglio, U.S. European Command deputy commander. The exercise program will become key to maintaining combat edge.

Current exercises, like Saber Strike, are expected to grow in 2013 and beyond, said Robert Misajon, USACE operations officer and FEST exercise planner.

"I think the exercise growth will enable more FEST involvement in the future," Misajon said.

USACE FEST-A teams are traditionally comprised of two military and six civilian engineering/geospatial team members. The team sent on this training exercise was a partial four-person FEST-A and worked with Croatian engineering counterparts to assess a destroyed bridge and a non-functioning hydroelectric plant in Slunj Training Area. The exercise provided an opportunity for the Croatian engineers to see how U.S. engineers conduct site assessments, said Croatian army Capt. Nenad Santini, deputy battalion commander, 1st Engineering Regiment.

"We have very good relationships with U.S. Army, Air Force and Navy engineers," Santini said. "It is good for us to see how U.S. engineers do engineering tasks. We try to learn from them and further develop our capabilities."

We are all teammates and members of NATO, Santini said.

"In case of an emergency it is important that we know how U.S. engineers deal with tasks. We need to complement each other and be on the same page when it is needed," he said.

One of the FEST-A's main engineering tasks during the exercise was assessing a non-functioning hydroelectric plant in Slunj Training Area. Tim Nauman, a USACE Europe District electrical engineer, augmented the team to provide the skill set necessary to conduct the field assessment.

"Today's mission, from the electrical side, was to determine the condition of the hydro plant equipment," Nauman said. "Was the equipment complete or incomplete? How salvageable was it? Would it be suitable to return to a working hydroelectric site?"

Hydroelectric plants have three critical parts, Nauman said. A civil works part -- collecting the water and diverting it to use, a generation part -- converting the water to a different form of energy (electricity) and a distribution part -- transferring the energy for use.

After the site inspection, the team determined that the civil works and generation components are in need of repair.

Nauman said the big question is, "Can something be put together that will be beneficial to the host nation?"

The Croatians are looking for answers to that question. The capability of the current hydroelectric plant, if repaired, would be suitable for powering a range control facility about three miles from the plant.

"My job is to decide if this is a viable project or not," Nauman said.

In addition to the hydro plant, the FEST-A assessed two bridges within the training area. The team visited the first bridge to establish a baseline. The second bridge, destroyed during war, has been replaced with a temporary Bailey bridge spanning the explosively formed gap. The bridge remnants still exist below the temporary bridge.

After taking a number of measurements, Hany Lansing, the FEST-A civil engineer provided a quick field assessment.

"I would recommend a concrete deck with steel girders," Lansing said.

Once the FEST-A returns from the field they will develop a scope of work for the project. The scope will include a plan to remove the Bailey bridge and bridge remnants and construct a permanent bridge capable of supporting 80 Military Load Class tracked and wheeled vehicle traffic.

FEST-A leader, Maj. Joseph Miozzi and his team of two civilian engineers and a geographic information system specialist built relationships and partner capacity during their training mission, Miozzi said.

"Forming relationships increases our readiness and what our capabilities are," he said. "With the Croatians, we have built that relationship. We know how to integrate and work with them."

Working in the field on a FEST-A with partnering militaries and combat engineers requires all types of professional engineering experience, said Nauman.

"It draws on everything I have learned -- design, construction, programming and overall execution," he said.

USACE FESTs posses the engineering skills and abilities required to support the full spectrum of military and civil agency operations. Core FEST-A tasks include construction management, base camp development, baseline environmental surveys, project quality control, engineer estimates, route reconnaissance, infrastructure assessments and restoration of essential services.

"The benefit of FEST-A is we are ready to go. We are trained, have the equipment and gear, get our orders and deploy," Lansing said. "It's a huge advantage."