A 15-Soldier engineer unit from the Wisconsin Army National Guard will lay the groundwork for troops on the last leg of their journeys to Afghanistan and other locations around the world.
The team from the Chippewa Falls, Wis.-based 924th Engineer Facilities Detachment left for Romania this week to begin site work for a new forward operating site from which planes carrying troops bound for Afghanistan will make their final stop before arriving at their destination.
Known as Forward Operating Site Mihail Kogalniceanu - or FOS MK, the former Romanian Airbase near the Black Sea will eventually replace its predecessor at Manas, Kyrgyzstan. In the process, the base will take on a vitally important mission and swell from a current size of approximately 300 personnel to the capability to handle 3,000 people.
The 924th's job will be to lay plans that will help expand the infrastructure to accommodate the increased troop movement.
As an engineer facilities detachment, the 924th is responsible for planning, design, project management, quality assurance and quality control. Engineer units from U.S. Army Europe will actually construct the new infrastructure, but the hand-picked team from the 924th was selected to prepare the initial plans and conduct survey and site prep over a three-week period before handing the project off to another facilities detachment.
"We couldn't ask for a better mission," said Lt. Col. Chris Klatt, the officer in charge. "This tracks right along with what the purpose of an engineer facilities detachment is supposed to be able to do."
The unit, which draws heavily on Soldiers with civilian degrees in electrical, mechanical and civil engineering, will be tasked with developing a plan for a new customs building, baggage storage facilities and other infrastructure to handle the increased activity on the base. Currently, only two or three planes per week land at the airstrip. That number will increase significantly as FOS MK assumes the mission from Manas, Staff Sgt. Todd Gilbertson, the unit's readiness noncommissioned officer, said.
"This should play right into our actual mission essential tasks list," he said in the days leading up to the trip. "This is what we're supposed to do. If they sent us to Afghanistan right now or wherever, this is the type of thing that we'd do - plan, manage projects, and [quality assure] and [quality control] projects while they're actually being built."
Gilbertson relished the opportunity the mission provided for the unit because of its real-world application, but he also noted the team-building that would result.
"It's a chance for us to come together as a team and build a core of people that we should be able to work with over the next couple of years," he said.
Lt. Col. Klatt believes he has just the right personnel for the job.
"We run on the idea that we bring in degreed engineers and all that we need to do is get them together as a team, show them the standard operating procedures that we have in place and then just move forward," he said. "And we really tailored our personnel to the mission."
The 924th was notified of the mission only a few months ago, and it spent most of that time preparing.
"We've gone through and done the war-gaming, and our goal is to be the central point for all those different moving pieces," Klatt said.
The unit left Wisconsin on Jan. 12, and they will return to the U.S. on Feb. 4 after handing the mission off to a unit with a similar skill set. The 924th will conduct another real-world mission during its annual training when it develops a plan for a new entry control point at Camp Ripley, Minn.