By Maj. Aaron HotardSeptember 19, 2019
JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON -- The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers -- Alaska District's 62nd Forward Engineer Support Team - Advance deployed to Thailand from August to September to help the Royal Thai Army implement the Stryker vehicle into its armed forces.
Working with the Royal Thai Army is a magnificent opportunity because the two countries have official relations dating back to 1818. As a detachment commander, it is an honor and a privilege for my team to work with the Royal Thai Army and contribute to this strong alliance.
A FEST is a unique unit that deploys to execute infrastructure assessments and assists senior staffs with engineer planning. The team consists of an officer-in-charge; non-commissioned officer-in-charge; a structural, mechanical, electrical, civil, and environmental engineer; and a cartographer.
Like superheroes, the team members come from different locations to meet for missions. All of the engineers are civilians working within the Corps and do not work on the team full time. The members work at districts across the U.S. and temporarily leave their regular duties for the FEST missions. It is a special group and there are only eight teams in the active Army.
The 62nd FEST headquarters is located on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson near Anchorage, Alaska. Currently, team members arrive from Hawaii, Sacramento, Phoenix, and Kansas City. Keeping with an Alaska theme, the detachment's mascot is Ragnar -- the angry polar bear. Many engineers rarely leave their home districts, therefore executing a project far from their home office, and working with a foreign customer, is a rare and exciting experience for the civilian engineers.
"When working with the FEST and finding myself in a foreign country, on a foreign military base, facing cultural and doctrinal differences, I learned to trust the fundamentals; how to develop customers' needs, manage expectations, and leverage available resources," said Reid Yamada, 62nd FEST electrical engineer. "I learned to be comfortable with discomfort. I am reminded, everything we do is in service of another human being. There is nothing like being a FEST engineer."
The Royal Thai Army is receiving Stryker vehicles for the first time in its history, and requested assistance with designing a motor pool and driver's course. The Stryker vehicle is an eight-wheeled armored fighting vehicle derived from the Canadian Light Armored Vehicle III.
The 62nd FEST received the mission from U.S. Army Pacific and deployed to Bangkok, Thailand. The first step was to meet the Thai Engineer Officers. The Thai engineers warmly greeted the 62nd FEST, and presented a plan for their Stryker Brigade Complex. The facility will be located on Chon Buri, a Royal Thai Army base about 55 miles southeast of Bangkok. The Royal Thai Army is always sharp and professional. They met our team in their fine-dark green dress uniforms.
After a few minutes of dialogue, both U.S. and Thai engineers developed a mutual understanding and friendly connection. The Royal Thai Army had a detailed master plan for their future Stryker Brigade Complex but required technical assistance with the motor pool. These facilities are where military vehicles are parked and maintained.
Typically, motor pools contain large parking lots, vehicle maintenance and parts storage areas. The Royal Thai Army possesses very skilled and experienced engineers but the Stryker vehicle is new to their military. The Thai engineers asked the 62nd FEST to determine if a Stryker motor pool would fit within the 500 meter by 235 meter area designated in their master plan.
During the meeting, the Thai engineers also requested 62nd FEST assist with a Stryker driver's course. The driver's course will give the Thai Soldiers the opportunity to learn the capabilities of the Stryker vehicle in a training environment. The course will simulate how to operate the vehicle on difficult slopes, through rough terrain, and drive through tight corners in an urban setting. The driver's course will be located on the Si Racha training area. The initial meeting between the U.S. and Thai engineers was very successful.
The Thai people are known for being warm and friendly. The Royal Thai Engineers gave the 62nd FEST a great initial meeting and both teams quickly felt close.
"The support, respect and appreciation of the Thai Military was outstanding and provided the backbone for our successful relationship," said John Davi, 62nd FEST mechanical engineer.
In order to have proper engineer planning you have to walk the ground and complete a site survey. The last step of the meeting was to plan the site surveys for the motor pool on the Chon Buri base, and the driver's training course on the Si Racha training area.
On Aug. 20, the U.S. and Thai engineers finished the site survey of Chon Buri. It started with a meeting in a conference room where the Royal Thai Engineers went into further detail explaining the Chon Buri master plan. After the review, the engineers from both countries walked the site where the future motor pool will be located. This is a fun activity for engineers as we love to play in the dirt.
During the site survey both US and Thai engineers discussed soil conditions, utility connections, and annotated GPS locations. After the site visit, the Thai Engineers treated the 62nd FEST to a family style lunch at a local restaurant. Thai food is fresh and delicious. The lunch included tofu soup, crab with rice, stir fry vegetables, Thai omelets, and a fruit desert.
The next site survey was the Si Racha training area on Aug. 22. Si Racha is an open training area that showed our team the beautiful nature in Thailand. U.S. and Thai engineers assessed the training areas and determined the best locations for a Stryker driver's course. Not all of the local fauna are happy the Royal Thai Army is expanding.
Once the site surveys were complete, it was time for the 62nd FEST to begin its design work. The critical part of FEST work is team communication and mutual understanding. All engineer disciplines write their portion of the project. The challenging part is combing the pieces into one cohesive product. It took many hours, but with collaboration and communication the team completed the task.
"During FEST missions, team effort and trust lead to mission success," said Harry Pham, 62nd FEST civil engineer.
The 62nd FEST owes a lot of its Thailand mission success to the Joint United States Military Advisory Group -- Thailand, or JUSMAG. The JUSMAG coordinated the 62nd FEST initial meetings with the Royal Thai Army, and helped us ship our equipment. The team was able to assist the JUSMAG by creating a scope of work to display a historic M113 tracked vehicle, World War II jeep, M3 halftrack, and two howitzer artillery cannons in the compound.
When the 62nd FEST completed the Chon Buri motor pool and Si Racha driver's course products, it was time to present them to the Royal Thai Army engineers. On Aug. 29, the 62nd FEST met the Thai engineers at the Royal Thai Army Post Engineer Department in Bangkok. The FEST presented the products to Col. Suwat Somboonsub, the Deputy Chief of Staff of the Royal Thai Army Post Engineer Department. Kishan Patel, the 62nd FEST structural engineer, presented the Stryker motor pool concept and Leslie Huynh, civil engineer, presented the Stryker driver's course concept. Engineers from both nations had a pleasant dialogue and the Thai Engineers were very pleased with the 62nd FEST products.
"I give my gratitude to the Royal Thai Army Engineers for their extraordinary hospitality, respect, and outstanding contributions to mission accomplishment," said Huynh. "I respect their appreciation of the Thailand and United States alliance."
After the successful presentation, the 62nd FEST took one week to refine and complete the products. Once complete, the products were presented to the Thai Engineers in a small farewell ceremony. The 62nd FEST presented farewell gifts to the Thai Engineers and took one final victory photo. It was a rewarding experience for both the United States and Thailand Engineers. Our mission is one small example of how successful Alliances are made and kept!
Major Aaron Hotard
62nd FEST Detachment Commander