The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) is a global component of the Defense Department, providing civil works and engineering support to the nation’s nine combatant commands (COCOMs) and to the State Department for both military and foreign policy goals. But when American warfighters go into battle, USACE turns its focus to overseas contingency operations.
Such operations share much with USACE’s domestic contingency ops mission and with its peacetime projects overseas. However, meeting battlefield requirements for power, facilities, infrastructure, water resources, etc., also requires a more heavily military approach than is typical for the largely civilian USACE.
For the past 11 years, contingency operations outside the continental United States (OCONUS) have fallen to the Transatlantic Division (TAD), working with Central Command (CENTCOM), which is responsible for the Middle East (including Egypt) and Central and Southwest Asia (including Iraq and Afghanistan).
“We have projects in about 18 of the 20 the nations in that COCOM, with the largest effort currently in Afghanistan,” Maj. Gen. Michael Eyre, TAD commanding general, said, adding the TAD/CENTCOM connection is unique among USACE components and COCOMs. “The Europe District has a relationship with EUCOM [European Command] and AFRICOM [Africa Command], PACOM [Pacific Command] has the Pacific Ocean Division, and so on. Those have an alignment to support those COCOMs; we’re the only one with a direct reporting relationship. So we are involved with the planning of missions, operations, training, etc. But the biggest difference is our mission in Afghanistan.”
According to USACE Interagency and International Services Chief James “Jim” Balocki, Afghanistan – and Iraq before, having fallen under the same USACE division and COCOM – provided a special learning experience for overseas contingency operations.
“We have gone through a very deliberate process, listening and learning lessons from those 11 years of deployments, and are beginning to institutionalize those into a playbook and make them part of our future doctrine. It’s not just this organization that will face such problems or just in CENTCOM, but in other regions where we will have to deploy in the future,” he said.
“The Corps maintains an expeditionary mindset of capabilities, where we can put small, tailored units on the ground to perform either narrow or broad missions. These teams, battle- rostered within our districts and deployable on immediate notice, can provide a broad range of skills to the COCOMs. We also are able to stand up operations in a contingency environment that are not enduring organizations, but ramp up to meet a commander’s immediate needs.”
USACE has deployed more than 10,000 civilians, all volunteers, into Iraq and Afghanistan to support contingency ops and billions of dollars in work since the end of 2001. Balocki said that represents a rare ability to undertake projects in some of the toughest environments on Earth, working 16-hour days, six or even seven days a week, for up to a year at a time.
USACE’s “Military Missions Strategic Direction 2012” and portfolio of initiatives takes the lessons learned in Southwest Asia and lays out how USACE will employ them in future OCONUS contingency operations in support of U.S. war-fighters, from all services, and the COCOMs. The key element identified in that document is matching USACE capabilities to COCOM requirements to develop efficient and effective solutions to expeditionary challenges.
That also includes leveraging “capabilities across the USACE enterprise to build relationships toward an Army approach to operational energy that integrates planning, water security and base camp design. Emphasis will be placed on the use of appropriate technologies (to include renewable energy sources, water reuse and others) and integrate initiatives with other Army elements to provide optimal solutions,” according to the portfolio.
“We have two liaison offices, one with CENTCOM and one with 3rd Army, who do the daily interactions,” Eyre said. “In Afghanistan, we have a headquarters augmentation cell in theater providing support for our two forward-deployed districts – TAD-North and TAD-South. Our district and area offices work directly with the regional commands and take that down to the brigade combat teams and, based on local requirements, different forward operating bases.”
A lot of that work is related to NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan and U.S. Forces-Afghanistan projects, under the Afghan Security Forces Fund, to provide the Afghan National Army and Police with installations and infrastructure. Others involve working with various Afghan ministries, the International Security Assistance Force-Afghanistan, State Department, and U.S. embassy on projects falling under the Afghan Infrastructure Fund.
“With our priority effort in Afghanistan, we work with all services because that is a joint effort, so you see a lot of coalition staff and personnel, depending on the specific project. We also will work with the minister of public works or whomever, depending on the project,” he continued.