With its headquarters in Winchester, Virginia, but projects spread throughout the Middle East, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Transatlantic Middle East District (TAM) is farther from its projects than any other district in the Corps. So TAM program manager Kim Sanders is used to overcoming the tyranny of distance. However, when she recently had the chance to close that distance she jumped on the opportunity.
For the last several years, Sanders, who is TAM’s program manager of the year for 2020, successfully managed one of the District’s largest projects: building missile defense infrastructure in the State of Qatar on a program collectively known as SHIELD 5. Although she travels back and forth to the Middle East regularly as part of her duties, she primarily runs things from Winchester. Recently however, the COVID pandemic has curtailed most travel so when she had an opportunity to work in Qatar for an extended period of time, she jumped on it, finding the experience to be both professionally and personally rewarding.
“With the pandemic, I was not able to go back and forth to the field as I was used to doing. When we had a temporary opening for a project manager forward, the team and I felt it was best for the program if I just packed my bags, did my quarantine, and stayed in country for an extended period. That choice has worked out well for the Qatar program,” said Sanders.
Sanders said that although the District already has a strong team in Qatar, her being there for an extended period helped build an even stronger bond and made them more cohesive as a whole and that applied to both TAM personnel and the stakeholders they engage with.
“The Qatar team has formed, stormed and normed ... We are now performing! This didn't happen overnight; it happened because the team was intentional about working on relationship building throughout the programs. Our team is the self-proclaimed "United Nations of USACE" – a team of many different faces, cultures, colors, languages, faiths and backgrounds. All of these experiences bring a wealth of diversity to our approach to problem solving. With time, we have become a cohesive team, with the understanding that failure is never an option.”
Tom Waters, TAM’s director of programs and project management, praised both Sanders and the entire Qatar team for their efforts in managing some of the district’s strongest programs.
“For our district, Qatar represents one of our largest construction programs in the Middle East, well over a billion dollars and nearing two billion under contract. What is so amazing is that we rarely see the typical construction challenges in Qatar that we do in some of our other countries and programs, and a lot of that is due to our leaders and people in Qatar. It is simply amazing to watch over a billion dollars in construction placement occur over years and no major or significant issues because our team is so strong - together and as individuals. Our success is all about and because of our people,” said Waters.
Sanders said that in addition to bonding with her team, she personally enjoyed Qatar itself and the hospitality she was shown. When asked what she personally enjoyed most about the assignment, Sanders found it hard to choose.
“The people, the weather, the culture. Culturally in Qatar, no matter how big the issue, or contentious the topic, the Qataris are hospitable. They always receive you with kindness. And after they get to know you, they ask you about your family and actually listen for the response. Then, they get to the business at hand so the atmosphere is more comfortable to have the difficult conversations. I have learned from them and have adapted that to my behavior, and will carry that with me always,” she said.
Sanders said the assignment in Qatar was a highlight in her career.
“This is the best job I have had in my career! Although we were working 12-14 hours days ... most of the time it didn’t feel like "work." It feels like I am just doing my part to help the team, adding my piece to the puzzle.”
In addition to the almost completed SHIELD 5 program, TAM is also building facilities and infrastructure for an almost $600 million project associated with Qatar’s purchase of F-15 aircraft.