Click here for the PDF of the article as it originally appeared in the PAE employee magazine.
In the past few years, events such as Russia's annexation of Crimea have highlighted the need for the United States to have armored brigades, all of which had been removed from the European theater over the past decade, staged nearby. To ensure the capability for an immediate response to this most recent aggression and future threats, the U.S. established the European Activity Set (EAS), which includes two critical sites in Germany managed by PAE.
"PAE has been and continues to be at the forefront of American foreign policy," said PAE CEO John Heller in a recent all-hands meeting. "It's meaningful to have partners in Eastern Europe, and we are not going to leave them behind. American units are training in countries like Hungary and Poland and guess who is assisting with putting armored combat back on the European continent? PAE."
Supporting 405th Army Forward Support Brigade
In support of the U.S. Army Sustainment Command's 405th Army Forward Support Brigade, PAE provides logistics and wheeled and tracked vehicle maintenance for a brigade- size military vehicle fleet based in Germany. PAE's mission is to keep the EAS ready and operational, enabling rotating U.S. Army units to conduct training exercises throughout Europe. While the fleet is currently only used for unit exercises, it is also available as a prepositioned fleet if needed for deployment and contingency operations.
"The U.S. needs combat platforms in Europe," said PAE Vice President of Aviation Services Larry Helfand, who oversees PAE's EAS contract. "EAS allows training to occur with our allies. It is a show of power. U.S. forces are training alongside NATO countries, former USSR countries ... it really sends a message."
Approximately 300 employees support the EAS in Germany, with most working in Mannheim (EAS-M) and some at a secondary location at the U.S. Army's Grafenwoehr Training Area (EAS-G). Our workforce at these two locations is comprised of U.S., British and German nationals.
Responsible for 10,000+ Pieces of Equipment
The EAS fleet is a heavy armored brigade (tracked and wheeled fleet) with over 10,000 pieces of equipment mainly consisting of: M1 Abrams tanks, M2 Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles, M109 Paladin 155mm Howitzers, communication equipment, and hundreds of military wheeled vehicles, trailers and weapons systems. "We supply everything from heavy combat armor all the way down to the supplies, arms and radios that support all of the fleets," said Larry.
U.S. Army units request equipment from the EAS fleet for a four- to six-week time period. Prior to the unit's arrival, PAE receives a list of what is needed and goes through a process called "setting the grid," in which PAE prepositions equipment days before a unit arrives. Upon arrival, the unit inspects the equipment, signs for it (called "the draw") and then transports it east to their training destination via rail or road. PAE has and continues to conduct training in eastern NATO nations including Poland, Romania, Estonia, Latvia, Hungary and Lithuania.
Units do not usually draw 100% of the EAS equipment, so while training is occurring elsewhere, the team maintains equipment left behind. Once returned, (during a process called "turn- in"), PAE employees perform necessary repairs and return the equipment back to operational readiness, preparing it for the next exercise deployment. "Changes are inevitable during this entire process, so it is important we maintain a flexible schedule to support the draw or turn-in dates, as delivered by the customer and needed by the rotational units," said Larry.
Inventory at Mannheim or Grafenwoehr fluctuates as equipment is moved around the world based on what the U.S. Army needs and where. "We have war reserve equipment, and there are several locations around the world for it," said Larry. "We may get pieces of equipment from the United States, South Korea or Kuwait to support combat training."
Accepting Any Challenge
EAS was a sole source award for PAE, which began in 2015. "The start of the contract was challenging," said Larry. "We had a 90-day window to work with our 405th partners to set up at Mannheim. The buildings were there, but it was not a functioning facility. We had to set up everything-chairs, desks, phones, computers, warehouses and maintenance bays ... it had to be built from the ground up."
"The small start-up team led by PAE European Program Manager (PM) Jim Bell and PAE EAS-M PM Breyon Holloway made a monumental effort during this time," said Larry. "We went from zero to 200+ people in 45 days."
In addition to the challenge of creating functioning facilities, the date of the first training exercise moved from October to September. "Despite the accelerated timeline, the team got everything set, so the arriving units would have the equipment needed to conduct training," said Larry. Experienced leadership is critical to smooth operations. The addition of Col. (R) Greg Akin, PAE Logistics Manager who formerly served as an Army Forward Support Brigade Commander, adds considerable strength to our leadership team. Greg shapes our monthly Army Sustainment Command briefings and supports our in- country Program Management team from a 405th Commanders' perspective.
"Synchronizing PAE's EAS sites and building a unified effort for the EAS mission between onsite local nationals, other contractors, governmental organizations and supporting U.S. military commands has been a challenge, but it is being accomplished successfully," said Greg.
The team has experienced a higher demand for training exercises than anticipated, and because of the immediate need for equipment, there is little time to prepare solid processes. Regardless, PAE has been able to build an effective infrastructure and enforce operational procedures, while completing the mission of preparing the U.S. Army's rotational forces for training in Europe.
"We stand by our tasks, conditions and standards with a three-point motto: account, maintain and sustain," said Breyon. "We look forward to challenges."
"Regardless of challenges, the team delivers what is needed and when," said Larry. "We never failed to support a draw or turn-in successfully. That is a commendable achievement for the teams at both sites, as this was no easy task. The team has done everything they can possibly do to improve and maintain flexibility in a very dynamic operational environment. If we have to work all night because a unit arrived late, we do that and are prepared to change out equipment at a moment's notice to support Commanders' desire for a specific training platform."
The ultimate plan for EAS is to relocate from Mannheim and Grafenwoehr to a new location, which will pose new trials for the team. "Teamwork and a sense of mission are what drive our employees forward," said Larry.