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Providing support to combatant commands and U.S. partners

The U.S. military’s six geographic and three functional combatant commands (CCMDs) are the nation’s global command and control centers, not only for combat, but also providing security and humanitarian support to the nations in their areas of responsibility (AORs).

The names, missions, and AORs have varied since the first of the current CCMDs, Pacific Command (PACOM), was established on Jan. 1, 1947. As those have evolved, so has the type and level of support provided to the CCMDs by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE).

USACE and its U.S. Navy counterpart, the Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC), are the Defense Department’s (DoD) designated engineering, design, and construction execution agents. In broad terms, USACE is responsible for Army and Air Force requirements around the globe and NAVFAC for the Navy and Marine Corps.

Both support and respond to the engineering and construction needs of the geographic and functional CCMDs, primarily the Special Operations Command for the latter. That includes not only facilities used by U.S. military personnel and allies, but also host-nation projects directed by the CCMDs.

“Fundamentally, our primary mission is to deliver vital engineering services, in peace and war, to strengthen the nation’s security, which is done by, through, and with the CCMDs [combatant commands]. The value of that can’t really be measured in terms of economics, projects, or people, only in terms of our effect on national security and interests.”

“Support to the CCMDs is my No. 1 priority,” said Maj. Gen. Kendall P. Cox, the USACE deputy commanding general for military and international operations. “There is a significant effort across USACE to ensure the proper resources are committed to that.

“Fundamentally, our primary mission is to deliver vital engineering services, in peace and war, to strengthen the nation’s security, which is done by, through, and with the CCMDs. The value of that can’t really be measured in terms of economics, projects, or people, only in terms of our effect on national security and interests.”

The most active AOR since 9/11 has been Central Command (CENTCOM), which is responsible for 20 nations from North Africa, across the Middle East, and into Central Asia – including Iraq and Afghanistan – and is served primarily by the USACE Transatlantic Division. USACE has deployed thousands of engineers to Southwest Asia in the past 12 years while continuing to respond to CENTCOM requirements elsewhere. That includes its security cooperation programs, designed to build partner capacity in regional nations so they can better deal with their own security needs with a reduced U.S. military presence.

USACE engineers also have responded globally to CCMD requests to build host-nation schools, medical centers, border patrol stations, and provide humanitarian and disaster relief. That has ranged from tapping USACE’s extensive domestic history with water resources to applying state-of-the-art technology and practices, while ensuring those projects turned over to host nations to use and maintain match each nation’s fiscal and technical capabilities.

USACE built primary school in Serbia

The Ivo Andric Primary School sports gymnasium in Pranjani, Serbia. Representatives from EUCOM, U.S. Embassy Belgrade, USACE Europe District, Serbian government, and the local community celebrated the completion of the gym on Sept. 24, 2012. The EUCOM-funded and USACE-managed humanitarian assistance project included a 1,580-square-meter sports gym with locker room facilities. The gym was originally started by the municipality, but never completed due to lack of funding. The project also included the installation of indoor bathroom facilities and general renovations to the existing building (new flooring, exterior doors and windows, entry canopy, and paint). The project was a small token of thanks. During World War II, more than 520 airmen were shot down over occupied Serbia and rescued by local Serbians who ultimately assisted in the largest evacuation of troops behind enemy lines in history. The people of Pranjani were instrumental in the success of the Halyard Mission rescue, building an airstrip to enable the evacuation. Through partnership and the successful completion of this project, the people of the United States and Serbia continue to cultivate their friendship. USACE photo by Jennifer Aldridge

“We have tremendous capabilities in water resources, hydropower, and so on, that don’t necessarily fall under my specific area, but are part of USACE efforts worldwide,” Cox noted. “Using those, the CCMDs can have an immediate second- and third-level impact as specific projects, regardless of size, improve the quality of life of those living in a given region.”

The combination of rapid evolutions in technology and growing USACE experience in dealing with the full spectrum of global needs also has led to new and improved relations between USACE and the CCMDs.

There have been more resources during the past decade or so, which has been an era of plenty; we are now seeing some reduction in that, but our primary mission remains unchanged.

“The entire world changed after 9/11 and how we perceived our ability to support our nation and provide significant support to DoD and the CCMDs was part of that,” he said. “We’ve seen forward presence change, of course – AFRICOM [Africa Command] has come online since 9/11 – so the most important thing is the CCMDs have come to better understand the full capabilities and capacity the Corps brings to theater cooperation and engagements. We have a growing need for geospatial information, for example, which includes our ability to find water; that is a great capability we provide to the CCMDs on an as-needed, as-requested basis.

“There have been more resources during the past decade or so, which has been an era of plenty; we are now seeing some reduction in that, but our primary mission remains unchanged. There also has been a growth in requirements, which are not always measured in dollars and cents, but in our ability to provide capability and work with the CCMDs to develop the right solution.”

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J.R. Wilson has been a full-time freelance writer, focusing primarily on aerospace, defense and high...