US Army Corps of Engineers
Albuquerque District

FEST-A Team Focuses on Culture and Engineering

Public Affairs
Published June 1, 2012
The 59th FEST-A Team includes (L to R) Maj. Seth Wacker, Officer in Charge; Steven Niemi, Civil Engineer; Dr. Sonya Olbrantz, Environmental Engineer; Bill Young, Electrical Engineer; Essam Mostafa, Civil Engineer; Tin Kyaw, Mechanical Engineer; and Sgt. 1st Class Steven Martin, NCOIC and Construction Supervisor.

The 59th FEST-A Team includes (L to R) Maj. Seth Wacker, Officer in Charge; Steven Niemi, Civil Engineer; Dr. Sonya Olbrantz, Environmental Engineer; Bill Young, Electrical Engineer; Essam Mostafa, Civil Engineer; Tin Kyaw, Mechanical Engineer; and Sgt. 1st Class Steven Martin, NCOIC and Construction Supervisor.

The 59th FEST-A Team continues to provide support to the Albuquerque District and Santa Clara Pueblo.  As promised, the team returned in early May to provide recommendations for low-cost and efficient delivery of potable water to the Pueblo community.

Collaboration between the FEST-A Team and area pueblos has been helpful for all.  For Santa Clara Pueblo, they now have professional recommendations they can use as a basis for contracting and construction of a water system.  And, the FEST-A team will incorporate cultural lessons learned when on a deployment to Afghanistan later this year. 

The types of conditions and the environment of the pueblos are comparable to the type of villages in need of help in Afghanistan.  Coordinating with the pueblos has taught the team members that their mission is much larger than providing engineering solutions, as it will be imperative for the team to understand the culture of the native people. 

“We can provide an efficient, low-cost solution to our Native American customers, but if these recommendations challenge their values or priorities, the solutions may never be implemented,” said Maj. Seth Wacker, FEST-A team lead. “As a result of working with these communities, we have found that even the manner in which our report is presented can be critical to its acceptance as a valid solution.”
Therefore, the lessons learned by the FEST-A Team are two-fold.  “Our team members, already experts in their fields, must also become experts in understanding cultural differences, while not losing sight of the team’s main mission and goal,” Wacker said.

Delivery of clean, potable water and other utilities, which are common issues for native tribes, are also common scenarios the team encounters when operating abroad in support of Corps and Army tactical missions. Because of the lessons learned in New Mexico regarding engineering and cultural awareness, the team will be prepared for  similar situations half a world away and, thereby, cultivate  amicable working relationships with the Afghan people.

The FEST-A Team will continue to provide assistance to Santa Clara Pueblo. The next project for the team is to assist with designing a nursery facility that will allow the Pueblo to reforest their sacred lands that were devastated during the Las Conchas fires last year.

“This is not only a very important initiative for the Pueblo, but yet another great training opportunity for our team, as it incorporates aspects of civil, mechanical, electrical, and environmental engineering, plus cartography,” Wacker said. “And, we will be able to use the skills of the entire FEST-A Team.”

Unlike many engineering organizations, the FEST-A Team develops solutions using input from all major disciplines of engineering, which ultimately ensures more comprehensive, sustainable solutions.

“The team looks forward to returning to the Albuquerque District to tackle this important project for Santa Clara Pueblo,” Wacker said.