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“Transforming” USACE’s Army Engineer Regiment

 

U. S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) activities span a spectrum stretching from projects performed by a civilian workforce but led by Army engineers to dedicated military engineering battlefield roles. It is at the latter end of this spectrum that the Engineer Regiment is dramatically transitioning from more than a dozen years of combat to the anticipated mandates of the future.

Col. Philip Secrist, Regimental Headquarters chief of staff at the U.S. Army Engineer School, drew on his experience across the engineering spectrum when he summarized a current environment where “the close working relationships between the Corps of Engineers and military engineers have grown to the point where I have never seen them stronger or more mutually supportive. The conflict we have been in has forced us to do that, but it is a very good thing. In fact, it’s definitely one of the highlights of our current posture.

 … the restructuring “reflects a desire by Army brigade combat team maneuver commanders for more engineers and engineering capabilities in their units.”

“You see it in several places,” he said. “For example, the Corps of Engineers Campaign Plan has it as one of their major objectives to support the regiment. That’s been true for the last couple years and we are constantly on the phone together with coordination of programs and initiatives that USACE is helping to work through the Pentagon for us.”

Secrist cited a catchphrase from the current regimental commandant, Brig. Gen. Tony Funkhouser, describing the Engineer Regiment as “the Army’s Regiment of Opportunity.”

“That philosophy is supported by the wide aperture of jobs our engineers can perform throughout their careers,” he said. “Many Army regiments have a much narrower focus when compared to the 17 different military occupational specialties that we have for our enlisted Soldiers, two for our warrant officers, and three for our officers. So it’s a very diverse branch covering everything from combat engineers to divers, to geospatial specialists, to construction engineers to firefighters.”

The Regiment of Opportunity theme is also evident in areas like a healthy Advanced Civil Schooling program, a new training-with-industry program, and efforts to ensure that Soldiers in the Engineer Regiment receive civilian credit and trade certifications for military schooling.

Another recent initiative involves ongoing restructuring toward Brigade Engineering Battalions (BEBs). Created both from conversion of existing units and from scratch, the Engineer Regiment will field 32 active component and 28 Army National Guard component BEBs over the next few years.

Secrist said that the restructuring “reflects a desire by Army brigade combat team maneuver commanders for more engineers and engineering capabilities in their units.”

Prior to transformation, the engineer battalion consisted of two “Sapper” companies, a light equipment company, a forward support company, a headquarters company, and two firefighting detachments. Transformation to BEB has created two engineer companies (both a mix of Sapper, route clearance, and horizontal equipment platoons), an intelligence company, a signal company, a forward support company, and a headquarters company.

He described BEB structure as “commanded by an engineer and with an engineer-heavy staff,” noting that the new units will also incorporate signal, military intelligence, and CBRN (chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear) defense capabilities.

The Engineer Regiment will field 12 active component BEBs in FY 14 and 20 in FY 15. The Army National Guard component will activate the first six of its 28 BEBs in FY 15.

One early BEB fielding followed the late-2013 conversion of the 101st Airborne Division’s 326th Engineer Battalion to the 326th BEB (Air Assault).

“I prefer to denote it as a ‘transformation’ rather than a ‘conversion,’” offered Lt. Col. Phillip J. Borders, PMP, commander of the 326th BEB. “Because the 326th Engineer Battalion has such a storied lineage going all the way back to 1918, we would not want to tarnish the legacy of those great men and women who have fought before us.”

Prior to transformation, the engineer battalion consisted of two “Sapper” companies, a light equipment company, a forward support company, a headquarters company, and two firefighting detachments. Transformation to BEB has created two engineer companies (both a mix of Sapper, route clearance, and horizontal equipment platoons), an intelligence company, a signal company, a forward support company, and a headquarters company.

“The way I see the transformation is that I am no longer just the senior engineer in a brigade,” Borders said. “I still have the responsibility to inform the brigade commander of engineering operations and how to employ engineers in their mobility, counter-mobility, and survivability roles. But after extensive discussions with the Engineer Regiment, I also see my role as the senior combat support enabler integrator for the brigade commander.

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Scott Gourley is a former U.S. Army officer and the author of more than 1,500...