War on Terrorism

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Face of Defense: Small Shop Engineers Mission Success



By Air Force Staff Sgt. Whitney Amstutz
455th Air Expeditionary Wing

KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan, March 3, 2015 – The average Air Force civil engineer squadron comprises more than 100 airmen specializing in disciplines ranging from electrical to structural engineering.

This diversity of skill and strength of numbers enables them to complete projects and conduct find-and-fix operations in situations when minutes can make the difference between mission success and failure.

But the engineering operation here rests squarely on the shoulders of only two airmen.

“The workload here is comparable to any other civil engineer unit,” said Air Force 1st Lt. Tim Lord, 451st Expeditionary Support Squadron Civil Engineer Flight commander. “There are three large CE functions here: facility management, project management and operations.”

Facility Management

With roughly 100 facilities under their jurisdiction, Lord and his enlisted counterpart, Air Force Staff Sgt. Gabriel Lara-Ortega, are responsible for ensuring facilities are in good working order.

“Every facility has a designated manager,” Lara-Ortega said. “We have to conduct training, coordinate with them, make sure they know what’s covered by that building’s contract and what kinds of things contractors are authorized to do. We meet with contractors weekly and coordinate with the NATO Support Agency, or NSPA, which is the entity that works the contractor side of the house. So we facilitate communication between all these moving parts to ensure things get taken care of.”

Project Management

Project management comes with its own unique requirements and workarounds. Lord and Lara-Ortega oversee dozens of projects simultaneously, all of which must be held to the highest standard and executed to the letter of the contract.

“Even though we’re a small shop, we still have to provide the same capabilities we do back home.”

Operations, the final piece of the engineering triad, requires Lord and Lara-Ortega to interpret contracts, oversee a streamlined communication system and make tough decisions when they have to improvise.

“We don’t have a customer service desk like you would normally encounter in a CE shop,” Lord explained, adding that customers usually go directly to the contractors to handle issues. “We come into the equation when the contractor doesn’t fulfill their duties or there’s confusion about what those duties are.”

Clarifying Confusion

When those unorthodox situations arise, Lara-Ortega intervenes.

“I clarify the confusion and work with the two parties,” he said. “If the issue is not covered under the original contract, we’re responsible for determining the best way forward. If there is a facility that needs work but is not on a contractor’s maintenance list, or a project on base that is not covered by a contract, it comes to us to either execute in-house or we have to write a contract for it.”

In spite of their intense workload, Lord and Lara-Ortega said they still manage to maintain a healthy sense of humor.

“The only predictable thing in our day is that we’ll wake up, eat breakfast and come to work,” Lara-Ortega said. “After that, all bets are off.”

Laughing, Lord agreed with his wingman.

“It’s definitely a challenge, so it’s a good thing I enjoy a good challenge every now and again,” he said. “We perform a support function, so it’s nice knowing that because of us, people can have good crew rest, have working plumbing and proper heating, ventilation and air conditioning. We make a difference, and that’s a good feeling.”

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