TRANSATL ANTIC DIVISION
David Roldan, a mechanical engineer with the Middle East District, conducts an assessment of a facility in northern Virginia to determine its suitability for COVID-19 response. A facility assessment does not mean that a facility will be used.
businesses, they exempted military and construction; however, those exemptions didn’t mean the projects would just continue with business as usual. Tony Oby, TAM’s area engineer in Qatar, explained the effort that went into ensuring construction efforts could safely continue. “The initial days of COVID-19 were a mix of confusion and uncertainty. Although we had an exemption, our contractors still required proper documentation permitting them to continue work beyond the limited hours allowed,” Oby said. “We worked closely with the Qatari government to get the necessary documentation. Additionally, there was an area in Qatar that housed thousands of laborers that was quarantined and no one was allowed out. This affected sub-contractors living in the region as well as the ability to receive supplies that were stored there. Fortunately, we have an outstanding administrative staff that stayed on top of all the waiver paperwork and were very proactive contracting personnel, so we’re optimistic our project delivery dates will remain as they were prior to COVID.” Each country where TAM operates faced similar circumstances, but there were unique challenges. “In Kuwait, we’re working projects for the Kuwait Ministry of Defense as well as projects for the U.S. Army and Air Force in Kuwait,” explained Hamed Issa, the district’s senior program manager in Kuwait. “So, we need to work with the Ministry of Health to make sure we’re complying with their guidelines, but also with our military customers on base access and any project delays occurring while access is restricted. In 120
our case, there are things beyond our control but we’ve been proactive in our engagement with stakeholders and the contractors to ensure we’re able to work as soon as restrictions are lifted. Additionally, we’ve been working with the Kuwaitis on possible construction of COVID medical facilities.” In Bahrain, where the district has recently finished several major projects including a steel pier and a new medical and dental clinic, the work impact wasn’t as great, but the staff did feel it personally. “We’re a really tight office,” said Capt. Grant Wanamaker, a forward-deployed project manager in Bahrain. “When you’re used to seeing each other every day and you suddenly switch to telework, it can wear on you.” Despite the tyranny of distance, the office still managed the program as a team. Wanamaker’s wife, Emma, even made masks for the entire Bahrain team. “We had to manage bringing in over 900 contractors every day. This included transportation, reporting residence information, contact-tracing networks, and daily screenings. And we did all this without having to modify a single contract,” said Wanamaker. Meanwhile, in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), where TAM is working on multiple U.S. military construction and design projects valued at nearly $450 million, they temporarily had the opposite problem, with no workers to manage. “I guess you could say that one of our projects was negatively impacted for a positive reason,” said Joe Holm, the district’s resident engineer in UAE. “Our large aircraft maintenance hangar project contractor participated in constructing the UAE’s first COVID-19-specific testing and quarantine facilities as well as disinfection services for Dubai. They were chosen for their construction and renovation expertise as well as their ability to deliver products and services on a compressed schedule. As soon as that was completed, they were back to work for us, and because of their experience in delivering on a compressed schedule, they were able to get back on schedule very quickly.” Strong relationships also paid dividends for TAM in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, where close coordination with the Royal Saudi naval forces and the Royal Saudi land forces helped keep major projects on track. Gharib Ibrahim, Saudi area engineer, said the situation gave him a chance to improve relations with his Saudi counterparts as they discussed COIVD response. “The Corps of Engineers has gained a strong reputation all over the world for their rapid ability to respond to the pandemic. My counterparts were interested in this and we discussed some of the hospital conversions USACE had done in the United States. With proper precautions, I was able to keep all of my normal engagements.” Impacts to projects weren’t the only thing the district had to consider during the pandemic. The district logistics team worked overtime to ensure personnel had all of the protective equipment they needed to carry out their mission. The information management team also worked hard to ensure connectivity when most personnel began teleworking.