Overseas with Task Force Power
The Civilian Expeditionary Workforce enables Defense Department civilians to provide critical subject matter expertise while serving alongside U.S. military forces in theater.
By Jeff Devore, P.E., M.SAME
The Civilian Expeditionary Workforce (CEW), established by the Department of Defense, has enabled thousands of civilians to deploy to assist the military in a variety of locations abroad. Jobs performed have included administrative, engineering, safety, project management, operational support, education and medical support.
CEW volunteers often work in high-pressure and austere operational environments, alongside military, contractors, civilians and foreign national personnel. The CEW Program Office, which subsequently was renamed the International/Expeditionary Policy Office and then in March 2014, the responsibility for sourcing solutions for joint civilian expeditionary opportunities directed to U.S. Central Command, has adapted to the every changing needs of the services since the origin of the program. The in-theater demands are fluid and rapidly developing.
The Civilian Deployment Experience offered by the Department of Defense provides civilians the opportunity to participate in what is often a life-altering experience, working in an environment where, often, they are the only ones who have the skills and expertise needed to accomplish critical missions.
On one assignment, Task Force Power addressed several complaints at a vehicle repair facility in central Afghanistan, principally inoperable overhead doors and multiple circuit breakers tripping. PHOTOS BY JEFF DEVORE
BEGINNING A JOURNEY
The initial response to the information found on the CEW website was empowering. I completed the CEW application process in early 2012. Approximately nine months later, an email was received informing me of my selection. Pre-deployment activities began soon after, including training simulations, survival skills, medical, dental, physical, and psychological evaluations. Survival skills courses comprised vehicle rollover simulations, mapping, compass skills and weapons training.
After completion of the training requirements, travel from the United States into the Middle East and then to theater followed. My assignment was as an electrical engineer in the Joint Engineering Directorate of U.S. Forces Afghanistan, Task Force Power. Civilian deployments were usually individual and rarely sent as teams. Deployees rotated during various times of the year, into and out of their assignments based on the length of the assignment and mission need. Task Force Power’s mission was a multi-disciplined effort that included fire protection, safety awareness, energy savings, electrical inspections and support, contract administration, generation plant support, logistics, and material supply. The mission was a joint effort with staff from each of the services working towards a common goal of making forward operating bases in Afghanistan safer. Task Force members included military and civilian electricians, engineers, project managers and support personnel from all over the United States. Due to such diverse experience, each person had a contributing factor in the success of the mission.
One of the primary goals of Task Force Power was to inspect and correct deficiencies that could impact the safety of the troops and personnel on the various bases in the country. Authority was derived from a Central Command Fragmentary Order that established an electrical safety program for the combined joint area and from the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010. Inspector General reports were the main source of facility inspections. These reports indicated situations needing attention affecting life safety or health deficiencies.
Task Force Power leadership had been designated as the Authority Having Jurisdiction for electrical code inspections, enforcement, policies, standards and code waivers. This designation granted authority in theater to resolve issues specific to the situations found on many of the bases in country. Fire deficiencies were addressed by a team of fire inspectors. They traveled to bases offering inspection and training to increase awareness of potential fire risk situations and reduce the probability of a life safety incident. After detailed reports were written and approved, bill of materials were ordered. Once they arrived on site, the deficiencies were corrected by the electrical teams.
One of the primary goals of Task Force Power was to inspect and correct deficiencies that could impact the safety of the troops and personnel on the various bases in the country. Authority was derived from a Central Command Fragmentary Order that established an electrical safety program for the combined joint area and from the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010.
ASSESSING STANDARDS DIFFERENCES
One of the major engineering hurdles encountered was the use of two different standards with respect to electrical installations. In the United States, the National Electrical Code (NEC) has been adopted as the de facto standard in many defense installations. In theater however, NEC and the British Standard BS 7671 were both encountered. The NEC was established as the electrical code for the Central Command area of operations by Fragmentary Order in October 2008.
Differences in codes standards included protective earth (grounding) requirements, cable types, zoning of wet locations, frequency and voltage levels. The British standard relies on utilization at 240-V and 50-Hz frequency compared the U.S. standard of 220/120-V at 60-Hz. One quickly learns that the two systems are not compatible. Examples of equipment malfunctioning due to overheating if the wrong frequency was applied occurred occasionally on the bases. Since many facilities were constructed during the course of Operation Enduring Freedom, these two standards were encountered even on the same base. Due to the dual use of these standards, dual material supplies were required to support the repair of deficit situations and facilities.
The availability of materials supply to repair items is usually taken for granted. There are no big box stores to make a visit to down range. One of the most valuable tools at our disposal was the electronic bill of material (EBOM). The EBOM consisted of an electronic database of electrical material stocked in country for use in the repair of facilities. Depending on distance from the material resource, most electrical parts could be dispatched within a few days and be on its way to the needed base for repair. The logistic arm of Task Force Power provided this service to the electrical teams through the country. This eliminated the several month wait for materials that had occurred in the past.
Another challenge for the electrical teams was the use of counterfeit materials. There were various types of counterfeit materials discovered on the bases. Examples include mislabeled circuit breakers, wire that was undersized and had poor insulation properties, counterfeit national certification, and testing labels and relabeling of materials for their intended purpose.
Addressing complaints at a central Afghanistan vehicle repair facility were one mission assigned to Task Force Power. The issues consisted chiefly of inoperable overhead doors and multiple circuit breakers tripping. Electricians were assigned to inspect the facility. They reported the cause of the complaints as undersized wires, which caused low operating voltages, and counterfeit circuit breakers. Materials were ordered and resources scheduled to correct these deficiencies. After these repairs were complete, the building was planned to be placed on a permanent maintenance contract.
The process of dealing with code deficiencies was slightly modified compared to the normal process of code discrepancies stateside. Due to some of the sensitive nature of the functions of the defense and support activities, interruption of electrical service was not possible.
HANDLING CODE DEFICIENCIES
Task Force Power also provided engineering support for the various generation facilities throughout the country. Personnel assisted the plants in operations, projects and planning to bring about reliable electrical service to the various areas of Afghanistan. The task force provided technical support to resolve issues related to code violations and building projects. It was responsible for electrical inspections, investigation of electrical fires, modification, and testing of electrical systems and equipment.
Task Force Power leadership had been designated as the authority for electrical code inspections, enforcement, policies, standards and code waivers. The process of dealing with code deficiencies was slightly modified compared to the normal process of code discrepancies stateside. Due to some of the sensitive nature of the functions of the defense and support activities, interruption of electrical service was not possible. Creative solutions for keeping the critical units in business while correction deficiencies were frequently needed. These situations contrasted with the normal code interpretation in the United States, of not allowing occupancy or denying service until deficiencies are corrected.
Task Force Power also supported working group meetings to facilitate communication between various bases in country. Projects included Army vehicle repair facilities, aircraft refueling facilities, power plant upgrades, forward operating base hospitals, dining facilities, base housing, infrastructure upgrades and small distribution lines.
A LASTING EXPERIENCE
The work of Task Force Power has provided positive outcomes in improving base safety for servicemen and woman overseas.
The Civilian Deployment Experience allows civilian engineers to serve beside the military forces in typically hostile areas of the world, to augment their extensive capabilities with subject matter experts committed to serving our country.