HomeNewsPublicationsCE MagazineThe History of Any Place

The history of any installation

By Maj. Vincent A. Rea and 1st Lt. Morgan J. Grohol

A military installation's history is most often thought of, and expressed, along a strict timeline.  Its story has distinct beginnings and ends, which are recognized as encapsulating specific and nearly universally accepted time periods; World War I, the Cold War, the Global War on Terror.  True historical events, however, don't unfold in that manner.  Both internationally and locally, history is more accurately described as a free flowing and uncontrolled mist.  The vapors of time and place swirl through, in and amongst each other.  The haze is disrupted by large social change, remarkable events and people that create ripples in time.

Those disruptions are often all that's remembered or remarked upon by a story teller.  Yet, the history of any place is comprised of an infinite number of small ideas, unnoticed requirements and unconsidered variables.  They are the ever-present, individual "particles" in the air that play an incredibly consequential role in making a place what it is to become. 
Installation development and planning is a way to guide this natural process in a responsible way.  Planning is a nuanced, collaborative effort that demands participation by all of those operating in a given place and a full appreciation of the times within which that place's history is being written.  Planners are particle hunters.

When the 407th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron was established in September 2014, four independent flights were merged into a single entity responsible for supporting the newly burgeoning Operation INHERENT RESOLVE.  Two additional flights were added to create the first active U.S. Air Force civil engineer unit in this particular undisclosed coalition partner's nation.  There was much undecided and little in the way of direction on missions and operations scheduled for bed down, but the team had to begin the planning process despite the fact that the "particles" might never settle into a pile of material upon which to draw.  The mission could always change and evolve.

Multiple nations and their respective aircraft, along with various missions and competing interests, were already in place at the air base when the planning journey began and additional key mission components were on their way.  To address that inevitable reality, a planning process immediately took shape in three critical phases.  First, the team had to work with a diverse community to clearly and concisely state problems impeding mission accomplishment.  Next, engineers were charged with collecting data to support reasonable and thoughtful solutions for those problems.  Lastly, engagement with the customer had to go to a new level of collaboration to assure decisions could be made quickly with minimal second or third order effects.

Accurately stating the many existing problems was the first and most critical step in a long march towards the best possible course of action for all installation inhabitants.  Rather than treating symptoms, planners focused on the root cause of the problems that hindered the ability of Airmen to accomplish the mission.  That began with discussions; lots of them. There are common requirements that Air Force and other military members have come to expect, regardless of their location, but each installation has unique needs directly tied to their operational effort.  In this case, facilities and infrastructure that supported sortie generation were the primary focus.  Infrastructure and facility development would directly address each individual unit's role in that endeavor.

A common understanding and broad consensus was the goal, not a perfect plan.  The 407th ECES knew they would not please every member of the debate, but once common problems were agreed upon, research would inform the solution.  Planners dealt with problems such as an undersized waste water system and a generator plant that created a vast amount of noise in close proximity to a population needing crew rest.  Issues on this scale couldn't be addressed without reconciling the need for more space.  It quickly became apparent the 20 acres leased from coalition partner for the U.S .Life Support Area would have to increase.

Even after months of work, space remained at a premium inside the established LSA.  Regulations, instructions, field governing standards, manuals and handbooks all contributed to the never-ending collection of puzzle pieces to assemble.  The current base layout failed to establish standoff requirements for safety, force protection and explosives storage.  Prevailing winds and topography contributed to the difficulty reaching a palatable resolution for base-wide facility layout and infrastructure needs.  Planners made every effort to understand the relationships between sub-organizations and allocate space for supporting functions accordingly.  Leaders had to accept a very tough realization; they couldn't have everything they wanted, such as a personal workspace for every individual Airman in their unit.

Quickly accomplished, cheaply purchased and quality facilities weren't, and never are, possible simultaneously.  With the limiting factors clearly communicated, the time arrived for planners to begin collaboration with the installation's mission at the forefront.  In order to meet regulations, provide Airmen a safe living environment and solve grave space shortfalls, two major planning efforts needed to make progress over the six-month deployment cycle; an LSA perimeter expansion and petroleum, oil and lubricants yard upgrade.

The current LSA layout allowed the mission to continue unabated, but failed to establish standoff distance and clear zones for force protection.  Several defunct gates dotted the perimeter, increasing vulnerability to known threats.  Additionally, host nation facilities constrained the LSA perimeter on three sides, leaving only one direction for expansion.  To establish proper standoff, while maximizing available space for development, planners decided to relocate that wall as close to an existing HN road as possible but well within FP standards.  This increased the LSA to 25 acres, set the stage for resolving the undersized waste water system, allowed a shuffle of facilities and gave leeway for unforeseen changes in mission.  Planners decreased threat vulnerability by minimizing the entrances to the LSA, establishing two main gates for occupants and one for emergency response.  Fewer gates would funnel contractor traffic through designated routes and enforce predictable transit moves.

After force protection and safety were firmly established inside the LSA, planners decided to focus on the POL yard.  This was one of the few areas already consolidated by function, but lacking the proper security measures and space optimization.  All mission support fuel, including 400,000 gallons of JP8, 20,000 gallons of diesel, and 4,000 gallons of MOGAS, was stored without a physical protection barrier.  To remedy this, engineers designed proper entry control and vehicle access into the yard.  They also incorporated a consolidated storage and disposition site for hazardous waste generated by military operations.  By doing so, they eliminated security concerns posed by the current hazardous waste collection point, interior to the LSA and readily accessible to HN contractors.

After constructing a fence around this site, all requirements were met to move the hazardous waste from inside the LSA to the spacious POL yard.  Used oil comprised most of the waste and moving the collection point into the POL yard aligned with the consolidation ideology.  Additionally, the current power plant internal to the LSA, which required large amounts of fuel to operate, could move into the newly defined space.  The power plant layout increased in size to adequately provide the required production capacity of 4,500 kW, fire safety distances, maintenance capability and more efficient access to fuel.  Airmen rejoiced because re-fueling requirements decreased and constant noise from humming generators no longer interrupted sleep.  Moving both the hazardous waste site and power plant increased options for rearranging organizational facilities inside of the LSA and provided planners more flexibility for creative solutions. 

Even with a clear way ahead for the problems, proper installation planning and development is not a road that ends.  As General Dwight Eisenhower once said, "plans are useless, but planning is indispensable."  The next rotation of deployed Airmen filling the engineer role will operate within the same set of rules, but the context and stakes of the game will change.  The installation will be their hands.

The history of this installation will determine its character.  That history takes shape through the actions of those that inhabit it, as much as it does by the mission it enables.  Without appropriate facility and infrastructure planning, we risk becoming victims of the unconsidered.  Though a complicated web of rules and regulations make planning intimidating, the beauty of an idea conceived through discussion, put to paper and made reality by steady technician hands is the Siren's Song for Engineers.

Assembling something without care or building a flimsy response to a complex problem is neither formidable nor challenging.  Wiping away a landscape's surface completely and beginning anew is preferable, but rarely possible.  It takes men and women of consequence to think, discuss, design and build with purpose.  Air Force engineers are, quite simply, the perfect community to take on such a task.