Diplomatic Security and the Army Corps of Engineers: Forging a Partnership to Save Lives in Wartime

Middle East District
Published April 23, 2010

The partnership between the Department of State’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers demonstrates how specialized engineer support can save lives in wartime.

The partnership started with Diplomatic Security’s need for field expedient physical security measures at outlying locations in Iraq. The program has evolved to include a broad range of force protection and operational support facilities for diplomatic missions at locations in the U.S. Central Command area of operations.

Most of the effort is in Iraq, where the program is valued at nearly $600 million in completed, ongoing, and upcoming projects. Two USACE districts within the Transatlantic Division – Middle East and Gulf Region – carry out the program management and construction responsibilities.

When Iraq stood up as a sovereign nation in June 2004 and the Department of State (DoS) began to establish its embassy operations, the primary presence was in Baghdad. It also inherited four sites from the Coalition Provisional Authority, the international body that governed Iraq for 14 months. Those four sites – in Mosul, Kirkuk, Al Hillah, and Basrah – became regional embassy offices.

“Those outlying sites needed a rapid improvement of their overall security posture,” said John Bombard, special projects coordinator for Diplomatic Security/Physical Security Programs. “With the volume of workload that our Bureau of Overseas Building Operations was handling in Baghdad and the existing threat, Diplomatic Security made a quick assessment: we had to find an organization that could respond immediately to our security upgrade requirements in Mosul and Kirkuk. That organization was the Gulf Region Division.” USACE’s Gulf Region Division existed in Iraq from 2004-2009.

The initial work provided perimeter security, compound access control points, bunkers, and perimeter walls to protect DoS personnel in these locations.

At the other two sites – Al Hillah and especially Basrah – DoS personnel faced multiple daily threats from mortar and rocket attacks.

“We had to find a way to mitigate the indirect fire threat,” Bombard said. That need opened the door for a dialogue with the Transatlantic Programs Center (TAC), now the Middle East District.

Donn Booker, chief of Business Management Division for the Transatlantic Division and a former chief of TAC’s Iraq Branch, was deployed to the Gulf Region Division when DoS asked for support.

“At the time, we were working with the Army to award a new and innovative program of overhead cover projects to protect military and civilians at high-density gathering locations throughout Iraq,” Booker said. “We shared USACE expertise from the Engineer Research and Development Center and the Omaha Protective Design Center showing that this tested and validated system could help meet the Department’s force protection needs.”

“We had lost people in Iraq,” Bombard said. “With this detailed knowledge of how overhead cover and sidewall protection could help protect our people, I briefed our Diplomatic Security Countermeasures and Physical Security chain of command on the existing threat as well as a threat mitigation strategy. They fully supported establishing a relationship with USACE to help us with a much larger initiative.”

Specialized USACE expertise supports DoS’s Bureau of Overseas Building Operations, which directs the Department’s worldwide building program.

“Having this support agreement with USACE gives Diplomatic Security and the Department the operational flexibility to rapidly upgrade physical security and construct field expedient projects in contingency environments,” Bombard said. “As we move into less developed areas and certain operational environments, this specialized support gives us another avenue, if needed, for protecting people and facilities.”

Overhead covers protect personnel living or working at forward locations in Iraq. Constructing overhead covers in Al Hillah and Basrah was a team effort with multiple USACE organizations involved, and the successful completion of the overhead covers program set the stage for future force-protected projects in Baghdad. USACE Photos.

Work under the support agreement with MED includes overhead cover systems, perimeter and access control security, and other types of contingency facilities such as administrative areas, barracks, and maintenance buildings. When appropriate, DoS may also use the contingency standard designs that MED developed to meet U.S. Central Command facility objectives.

As a result of the agreement, one of the first major programs was construction of $170 million in overhead covers in Al Hillah and Basrah.

Zenovia Wilcox, MED project manager for this program, said that “the overhead cover program for the State Department program differed from the military program in that the focus was on the protection of individual personnel, rather than on areas where many people were gathered,” Wilcox said. Most overhead covers were erected over housing.

The program’s successful completion set the stage for future force-protected projects at the new embassy compound in Baghdad. Today’s projects include a barracks compound, helicopter landing zone, and another overhead cover project.

The East End Barracks, located at the new embassy compound in Baghdad, uses contingency standard designs to construct force-protected housing quickly.

East End Barracks, a $169 million project awarded by MED in September 2008, is well underway.

“The expansion of facilities at the new embassy compound accommodates the drawdown and consolidation of U.S. forces and personnel,” said Ronald Rhea, Gulf Region District. “Units from other areas are being relocated to the embassy compound, and they need housing. East End Barracks creates more housing capacity for DoS.”

“East End Barracks involves three DoS bureaus – Overseas Building Operations, Diplomatic Security, and Near Eastern Affairs – in addition to multiple Corps of Engineers organizations, and the contractors,” said Todd Hulsey, MED project manager for DoS projects. “We collaborate to keep the team unified and working toward providing these facilities quickly and in phases.”

The project’s 14 barracks provide housing for more than 1,000 embassy personnel. Supporting facilities are also included, such as a water treatment plant, a wastewater treatment plant, and warehouse. Work is being completed in phases by the Perini Corporation, with construction scheduled for completion by December.

A second major project – Landing Zone Fernandez – is the only landing zone to serve troops and the embassy staff in Baghdad, Hulsey said. “It is our most critical project today.

“Because of requirements from the Government of Iraq, the Corps had to speed up the schedule and have the facility operational three months faster than the contract originally required,” Hulsey said. “What is of particular note is the ability of the contractors, USACE, and DoS to be flexible and work together to speed up the normal process. A great deal of coordination takes place to produce a quality product ahead of schedule and in this challenging environment.”

Two contracts are in progress totaling $35 million.

A third project is also under construction: an $18 million overhead cover project for housing and other offices at the embassy compound. “This project was necessary for U.S. Forces-Iraq and other tenants,” Rhea said. “DoS mandated that camps on their compound will have blast protection,” demonstrating the emphasis that DoS places on protecting people.

Bombard reiterated that USACE support is important for the Department’s force protection efforts in Iraq. “Together, Diplomatic Security and the Department, along with USACE, have been able to implement field expedient physical security projects that protect our people and, in so doing, allow our personnel to stay decisively engaged in the region,” he said.