Written by Sgt. Jason Mikeworth, 207th MPAD
Power to the people. For the Soldiers of the 30th Engineer Brigade and the Air Force’s Design Team 15 (DET 15), 732nd Expeditionary Civil Engineering Squadron, this is a mission, not a slogan, as they work to improve the flow of electricity for military bases stretching from Talafar to Taji.
“The mission of our team is to support the 30th with engineer projects in the northern-half of Iraq,” said Air Force Capt. Jon Wahlgren, an electrical engineer with DET 15. “We do design plans and specifications for projects for troop construction and contractor work.”
Wahlgren and his Army counterpart Maj. Anthony Centore focus their energy on providing energy to customer units, working on projects from the electrical source at power sub-stations right down to the individual light switches servicemembers use.“I’ve done everything from small things like rewiring a room that was being remodeled, rewiring whole buildings, all the way up to the design of power grids for some of these enduring bases,” Wahlgren said.
Some of the biggest challenges that the electrical engineers face are adapting to the way Iraqis handle electricity. They’ve had to deal with a variety of different materials and standards, Wahlgren said, including adjusting to the metric sized wires used here.
“Being in a contingency type environment, you can’t just go down to the Home Depot and get what you need,” Wahlgren said. “Sometimes you have to make do with what you have.”Centore, who doubles as the executive officer for the 463rd Engineer Battalion, was assigned to the 30th because of his civilian skills as an electrical engineer.
Safety is always a major concern when working with electrical issues, Centore said, and that is what led to his role as a consultant for DET 15.
“When we came into the electrical needs here in theater, there were a lot of issues dealing with safety,” Centore said. “It was something that definitely needed attention.”
Centore has worked on projects at Logistical Support Area Anaconda, Forward Operating Base Spartan, FOB Warhorse and FOB Endurance.
“I’ve designed new power distribution systems for Rawa and Forward Operating Base Spartan,” Centore said. Although the mission assignments come from the 30th, Centore said he and Wahlgren will help anyone who asks for assistance. “It usually starts as a question. People are looking for someone with a castle on their collar [for an answer]”, Centore said. “It’s nothing for us to go out and resolve whatever issue they’re having.” Along with their missions to help design electrical systems in such a broad area, Centore and Wahlgren have worked to share their knowledge with the electricians in theater through classes.
“We’ve done four or five classes here for electricians as well as designers to help educate those people,” Centore said. “Our Soldiers are very good. What we try to do is draw those people into a classroom environment that may only have the Army’s two-week course.”
“It’s been wonderful working with both of them,” said Lt. Col. Danny Hassell, the team leader for the 30th’s Design Team 1. “They are exceptionally smart engineers with the know-how and ability to teach other people.”
Hassell, who has worked with Centore and Wahlgren on more than 50 projects, added, “We couldn’t have done it without them.”Centore said it has been great working with the Air Force team.“They’re a great bunch. They’re true engineers, very team oriented,” Centore said.Wahlgren said his experience alongside the Army has been equally good.“I’m really impressed with all of the Army individuals I have worked with,” Wahlgren said. “It’s really changed my perspective. I have a lot more respect for the guys in the Army.”
Wahlgren said that working with the Army has led to some experiences he hadn’t expected before deploying to Iraq. “I’ve seen some things I never would have imagined [seeing] as an Air Force captain,” Wahlgren said as he recalled a mission to help the city of Talafar restore power to most of its population.
“I went in there on a civil affairs mission. I never thought I would have been on the downtown streets of an Iraqi city,” Wahlgren said. The experience was very different for the Air Force captain who had spent most of his time ‘inside the wire.’“It was pretty exciting for me. It was a little outside of my comfort zone, but I never felt in danger,” Wahlgren said. “It was very enjoyable.”Centore and Wahlgren share another common bond that has helped them achieve success in their mission. Centore, an Army Reserve officer, works for a Pittsburg-based engineering firm. Wahlgren, an officer from the North Dakota Air National Guard, works for a Minnesota utility company. “The Guard and Reserve have been a huge help to this theater, specifically in the civillian skills they have brought,” Centore said. “If you had to pick something that has made a significant impact, there is no doubt that that would be in the top two.”Centore said he is very appreciative to his employer for their support. He said they worked with him when he left the company early to prepare for this deployment, and have continued to assist him while he’s in Iraq with finding technical documentation for a variety of equipment.
“You can’t say enough about the employers that back their guys,” Centore said.Wahlgren also noted the unique capabilities Reserve and Guard units bring to the mission.“All of the 30th have been a great team. It’s a good example of the potential these joint missions have,” Wahlgren said. “I think it helps bring to light the important contributions the Guard and Reserve can bring.”