AMARI AIR BASE, Estonia – The roar of jets is common background noise as U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Europe District teammates Chris Bailey and Jüri Saljukov check progress on construction projects like the new bulk fuel storage facility here.
The jets are part of NATO's larger collective Air Policing mission in the Baltics which has been ongoing since Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia joined the alliance in 2004, with additional Enhanced Air Policing missions out of the base here in Estonia operating since 2014 as a result of Russia’s illegal and illegitimate annexation of the Crimean peninsula.
The new bulk fuel storage facility is the latest of more than $70 million worth of military infrastructure projects the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been managing over the past several years on installations in Estonia, as well as neighboring Baltic countries Lithuania and Latvia. Most of the construction is part of the U.S. European Command’s larger European Deterrence Initiative and the projects are meant to enhance the U.S. deterrence posture, increase the readiness and responsiveness of U.S. forces in Europe, support the collective defense and security of NATO allies, and bolster the security and capacity of U.S. allies and partners.
“NATO does Baltic Air Policing out of the air base here so that can sometimes put pressure on us - like when the Hot Hazardous Cargo Pad runway tie in had to be done in 90 days so we didn’t impact that mission – but it’s also a great reminder of how important our projects here really are,” said Europe District Project Engineer Chris Bailey, who has been supporting the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers construction mission in Estonia and neighboring Latvia and Lithuania since 2014. “I think with the current events in the world today this work has an even greater impact for Estonia, the Baltics and NATO.”
The majority of the military construction managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the Baltics has been at air bases, including Amari Air Base in Estonia, Lielvarde Air Base in Latvia and Šiauliai Air Base in Lithuania. Typical projects include fighter aprons, cargo pads, squadron operations facilities, storage facilities and other projects to enable Baltic, U.S. and allied air forces to carry out missions.
The projects are meant to both increase the capacity for the militaries of Baltic allies operating at their bases, but to also facilitate operations of U.S. and other NATO allies at the bases for missions like Air Policing or further operations should the need arise.
For example, the bulk fuel storage facility at Amari Air Base will increase the base’s capacity for operations, allowing for more aircraft to fuel and carry out missions. And in addition to cargo pad, aircraft apron and other airfield improvements facilitating aircraft operations, the squadron operations facilities delivered at bases are used to plan and direct Air Policing and other missions, like delivering aid and supplies to Ukraine.
Europe District has also managed a handful of projects at Army bases in the Baltics as well, including Tapa Army Base and its associated training range in Estonia and the Adazi Military Base in Latvia.
At Tapa, Europe District managed the construction of various facilities, including vehicle maintenance and storage facilities, that are used by the more than 1,000 troops that are part of NATO’s United Kingdom-led multinational battle group based there.
Europe District also managed various improvements at Tapa’s training ranges, which were most recently one of the sites of multinational DEFENDER-Europe 22 exercises.
In addition to quality of life improvements at Adazi Military Base in Latvia, home to a Canada-led multinational NATO battlegroup, Europe District is working with the U.S. Army’s 7th Army Training Command to provide aerial imagery and mapping support at the nearby Adazi Training Area so they can improve future training activities there.
Estonian Jüri Saljukov has been a Local National quality assurance engineer for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers since 2018, supporting the on-site supervision of construction projects throughout Estonia.
Having grown up prior to Estonia regaining its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Saljukov said he takes a special pride in helping deliver projects meant to help maintain Estonia’s sovereignty.
“It gives me a good feeling to be able to work on these projects that are making a big impact for our Estonian forces and our allies here,” Saljukov said. “It makes me very proud to be playing a role in keeping our country safe.”
Bailey noted that he could sense that pride and enthusiasm throughout the Baltics when collaborating with host nation partners and working through the issues that typically come up in construction projects.
“The people in Estonia, as well as in Latvia and Lithuania, are very enthusiastic partners and very appreciative of the work we’re doing here and are always looking to find solutions and paths forward since they understand how important these EDI facilities are,” Bailey said. “I’ve worked here, I’ve learned about the host nation and the Baltic region, gotten to know many people and you come to feel for the people and you want them to maintain their independence and their sovereignty. So, I’m proud to be able to support that through these projects.”