The small town of Winchester, Va., located about 90 minutes from Washington D.C., would not be the first place that comes to mind as an international business hub. But with an active construction program worth almost $4 billion, executed across multiple countries, and another $2.7 billion in future potential work, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Transatlantic Middle East District (TAM) has been quietly making it just that for almost 50 years.
The District provides construction and related support services for U.S. military and allied nation partners throughout the Middle East, and although it has offices in eight countries in the region, the bulk of its program is managed from its headquarters in Winchester.
In most cases, TAM project managers and engineers meet with their mission partners in the countries where their projects are located, but on occasion, partners are hosted in Winchester and a bit of local hospitality is showcased along with project overviews.
That hospitality was on display recently during an Engineer Program Management Review (PMR) in Winchester with the Kuwait Ministry of Defence (KMOD) when the District decided to try something other than business as usual with the Kuwaiti engineers by opening each day with a “diwaniya.”
Diwaniyas are formal meetings, often business related, but also have a social facet that’s equally important. A special area is typically set aside, and they are considered a place to hold frank discussions on a variety of topics as well as get to know each other.
“Diwaniya plays an important role in the Kuwaiti society in the strengthening of social relations among Kuwaitis,” said Hamed Issa, TAM’s senior program manager in Kuwait. “They can be business related but the social aspect is very important. They are also a place to discuss general issues with friends and relatives and circulate news and information.”
Issa added that it also provides a good opportunity to strengthen the bonds between partners.
“We often get stuck in a loop of briefings and project update visits, so we see our mission partners frequently but don’t really get to know them. Breaking that paradigm allows us to actually get to know each other. It’s much easier to do business with those you know and trust.”
Joseph Zaraszczak, a program manager and the chief of the TAM branch responsible for Kuwait programs, said although the District has always had a strong relationship with its Kuwaiti partners, he appreciated their desire to come to Winchester and see the District’s capabilities in their entirety.
“Although we’re constantly engaging with our mission partners, they are often working directly with our program and project managers on specific projects. Bringing them to Winchester allows them to see the full scope of assets the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers can bring to the table. The value engineering, the scheduling tools, the ability to reach out to other districts with specific expertise, are things that might not be front and center to our mission partners but are a key reason they choose to work with USACE,” said Zaraszczak.
After the visit, the Kuwaitis indicated they’d like to make the Engineer PMR and the included diwaniya with the District a more official annual occurrence.
“During the visit I was getting daily feedback from the Kuwaitis, Col. Osama (Director, FMS Directorate, Foreign Procurement Sector, Kuwait Ministry of Defence) and the Office of Military Cooperation – Kuwait (OMC-K),” said Issa. “They indicated they saw a lot of value in this and possibly conducting one every year. It was reverberated by OMC-K staff to other USACE management that the ’PMR went great’ and ‘The USACE team did outstanding!’”