It has been a year of transition for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). Lt. Gen. Robert L. Van Antwerp, 52nd chief engineer and commanding general of USACE, retired on May 3, 2011, after 39 years of active duty and four years of serving as the agency’s top military officer. Maj. Gen. Merdith W.B. “Bo” Temple, USACE deputy commanding general, has served as acting commanding general and acting chief of engineers since Van Antwerp’s departure, while awaiting confirmation to become the 53rd chief engineer.
“This has been an important year for the Corps of Engineers,” Temple said in an interview this fall. “2011 was the Year of the Schedule, and in addition to our regular workload, we have delivered nearly $30 billion worth of construction in three programs – the Base Realignment and Closure [BRAC] 2005 work, the New Orleans Hurricane and Storm Damage Risk Reduction System, and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act [ARRA (Stimulus)] work. Each of these efforts relied on the entire depth and breadth of the Corps, requiring a focused and coordinated effort to design and construct multiple projects in a very short time frame.”
USACE has been doing this exceptional work for more than 200 years. Since 1775, when Col. Richard Grindley was named the Continental Army’s first chief engineer, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has adapted and aligned itself to meet the changing priorities of the armed forces and the nation, in peace and war. Across both the military and civil works program areas, USACE is delivering critical projects and services in a consistent, safe, timely, cost-effective manner.
Army engineers have played a role in every major U.S. military conflict since the Revolutionary War, when Grindley oversaw fortifications at the Battle of Bunker Hill. From construction of early coastal defense works to today’s modern military facilities, USACE has served the armed forces in peace and war.
“Over the past six years, fiscal years 2006-2011, USACE’s military construction [MILCON] programs have managed projects valued at over $93 billion for the Army, Air Force, and Department of Defense; Overseas Contingency Operations; ARRA; Base Realignment and Closure 2005; and the Energy Conservation Investment Program,” said Temple. “We relied heavily on the standardization of processes and facilities, as well as adopting private-sector best practices, to include expanding our acquisition strategies like design-build and early contractor involvement.”
BRAC – The Base Realignment and Closure 2005 mission has served as the Army’s No. 1 stationing priority, incorporating vital force structure changes, implementing global restationing strategies, and supporting the Army’s initiative to grow a modular force.
Unlike other major construction programs, BRAC had a legislatively mandated, date-certain completion with no provision to slip. Therefore, design and construction efforts were synchronized into the total Army effort to meet the BRAC schedule for completion in September 2011.
USACE constructed the facilities portion of BRAC, which included 274 of the 329 MILCON projects (the National Guard is executing the balance) valued at $11 billion. These include:
•Projects that enhance the operational Army transformation to the Army modular force such as the construction of brigade combat team complexes at Fort Bliss, Texas, and Fort Riley, Kan.
•Headquarters’ facilities that are more efficient and closer to subordinate commands. Examples include the four-star headquarters for the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, the U.S. Army Forces Command, and Army Materiel Command.
•Facilities that transform the Army Reserve component by creating joint capabilities for homeland defense and other missions across the United States by aligning the Army Reserve with Air Force, Navy, and Marine Reserve units to improve joint readiness and the ability to train and deploy in support of current and future contingency missions.
To meet this challenge, USACE centralized and blended the major business lines of construction, real estate, and environment, integrating the efforts of customers and stakeholders, and establishing metrics and benchmarks focused on schedule management and successful turnover and transfer of quality facilities safely.
“The BRAC program has been a fantastic learning experience for USACE and provided a test bed for improvements in our facilities delivery processes that will be institutionalized for the long-term MILCON program,” said Temple, concerning the largest military construction program since World War II. “We are better postured to meet the challenges of future missions in what is expected to be a budget-challenged environment, all while strengthening our military and nation for years to come.”
9/11 and Overseas Contingency Operations
This year marks 10 years since the tragic events of 9/11. Immediately following the attacks on the World Trade Center (WTC) and the Pentagon, USACE was part of the federal response plan coordinated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). In New York, USACE Soldiers and civilians evacuated 3,000 people from the city by boat; provided debris subject-matter experts and planning response teams; provided power so that the New York Stock Exchange could get back to business on Sept. 12; and coordinated the inspection of 1.6 million tons of debris from the WTC site.
At the Pentagon, Army Engineers were on scene with members of the Engineer Company of the Military District of Washington (MDW) and the 249th Engineer Battalion. Specialists in collapsed building rescue, the MDW Engineer Company arrived at the Pentagon immediately after the attack and spent the next 10 days searching for survivors, shoring up the building, and removing debris.
“The Corps has been fully committed to military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq since the beginning and we will be there as long as needed. Since 9/11, we have had more than 10,000 volunteer deployments, which is remarkable,” said Temple. “Many people have deployed more than once. It shows that the people of our country and our Corps have great depth and great strength and great determination.”
This year USACE shifted the command and control structure to support the work in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Gulf Region District in Iraq was stood down in June, and an area office was established there as part of the Middle East District. In Afghanistan, USACE established a Transatlantic Division forward office to provide programmatic oversight, allowing the Afghanistan Engineer District-North and Afghanistan Engineer District-South to focus on project execution. These changes will further strengthen and support USACE’S mission to construct infrastructure that is a vital part of international efforts to establish a safe and secure future in these countries.
Iraq – USACE has delivered more than 8,500 projects and related activities valued at $15.5 billion in Iraq. Some examples include increased water treatment capacity for an estimated 5 million people; 7,000 megawatts of power generation capacity added or restored to the Iraqi grid; 3 million barrels per day of oil production capacity restored; approximately 1,200 schools built; and more than 50 hospitals and 130 medical clinics built or renovated.
Afghanistan – With the surge in U.S. forces and accelerated efforts to build the Afghan National Security Forces, USACE’s workload in Afghanistan has ramped up in the past few years. To meet this challenge, USACE staffing in Afghanistan has increased from about 250 military and civilian personnel in early 2008 to more than 1,000 today. In addition, a second district in Afghanistan activated in August 2009 to support the increased workload. USACE has already completed more than 840 projects with a cost of $5.8 billion.
Since 1824, USACE has executed an essential and enduring civil works mission. Scores of vital infrastructure, public works, and flood control projects have been constructed, ensuring the nation’s economic advancement and prosperity. The past four years have seen the highest civil works execution in USACE history, with more than $11 billion in fiscal year 2010 alone.
Roughly $1.4 trillion of U.S. trade comes through ports and waterways managed by USACE. The agency also owns, operates, and/or manages 693 dams; 236 navigation locks; 12,000 miles of commercial inland navigation channels and 13,000 miles of coastal navigation channels; 926 harbors; 12,000 miles of levees; and 75 hydropower facilities producing 24 percent of U.S. hydropower capacity.
New Orleans – Following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Congress authorized construction of the $14.6 billion Hurricane and Storm Damage Risk Reduction System (HSDRRS) and USACE fulfilled its commitment by having the 100-year defenses in place by the start of the 2011 hurricane season. The system includes the Inner Harbor Navigation Canal-Lake Borgne Surge Barrier, which is the largest design-build civil works project in the history of USACE, and the West Closure Complex, which features the world’s largest sector gates and pump station. More than $2 billion worth of HSDRRS contracts were awarded to small businesses, and construction on the 350 miles of levees, floodwalls, gates, and interior pumping stations created more than 60,000 jobs.
Outdoor recreation – USACE is the nation’s largest provider of outdoor recreation, operating more than 4,240 recreation sites at 420 Corps lakes and river projects, and leasing an additional 1,800 sites to state or local parks and recreation authorities or private interests. USACE hosts about 370 million visits a year at its lakes, beaches, and other recreational areas, and estimates that 25 million Americans visit a USACE project at least once a year. Supporting visitors to these recreational areas creates about 600,000 jobs a year.
ARRA – When President Barack Obama authorized the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, USACE provided more than $7.5 billion of civil works and military projects to the nation. Every $1 billion spent on USACE construction projects creates nearly 90,000 direct and indirect jobs.
In 1882, USACE saw its first authorized emergency operation, when the organization used its vessels to deliver relief supplies to flood victims along the Mississippi River. Today, USACE is part of the federal government’s unified national response to disasters and emergencies.
Along with exercising its own civil works and emergency management authorities, USACE assists the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA by coordinating and organizing public works and engineering-related support. USACE has more than 40 trained response teams ready to perform a wide range of FEMA missions.
There were 93 federal disaster declarations in 2011, nearly three times the number of declarations in an average year. USACE was called upon to assist with record flooding, severe tornadoes, a hurricane, and a tropical storm this year. Additionally, USACE often provides assistance with disaster response and recovery operations overseas, most recently following the earthquake and tsunami in Japan and flooding in Australia and New Zealand.
Operation Watershed – This spring and summer USACE conducted extensive flood fight operations in response to high water on the Missouri, Mississippi, Ohio, Souris, and Red rivers and their tributaries. The flooding threatened the lives and property of millions of people and impacted billions of dollars of waterborne commerce.
Record snowmelt and rainfall meant that existing flood control systems were tested to their maximum capacity. This spring, USACE’s Mississippi Valley Division operated the Birds Point-New Madrid Floodway South of Cairo, Ill., to relieve pressure on the Mississippi River & Tributaries (MR&T) system, as well as the Bonnet Carre Spillway and the Morganza Floodway, to reduce the river’s flow as it approached Baton Rouge and New Orleans. This marked the first time all components of the system have been operated in a synchronized manner to manage the highest water levels experienced since construction of the MR&T was authorized following the floods of 1927.
Northwest Division employees were fighting floods in Montana, Nebraska, Wyoming, Kansas, and North and South Dakota, requiring aggressive and historic releases from the main stem reservoirs.
The value of the nation’s investment in flood control projects like these is measured by what was not lost – lives, communities, critical infrastructure, and industry. Even as historic water levels began to recede, the fight had not ended. USACE is looking at the future actions and the resourcing necessary to restore the system for the people, communities, and industries they protect.
“The flood management systems that our predecessors built performed as designed during this year’s high water events,” said Temple. “They were designed and built using information from historical events that happened decades ago. But technology has come a long way and we have learned much more about how to predict future conditions. We need to consider size, frequency, and longevity of flooding and storm events. These structures have been exposed to great pressure and great amounts of water, some for a very long period of time. We need to give great thought to what systems and projects will be required to reduce risk for another century to come under changing climate conditions.”
Severe storms – This spring, USACE received FEMA missions in Alabama, Mississippi, Missouri, and Massachusetts following devastating tornadoes. Responding to the challenges of debris removal, placing temporary housing units, generating emergency power, and helping replace critical public infrastructure such as schools, hospitals, and emergency services facilities, has involved more than 500 USACE professionals.
Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee – In late August, wind and rain associated with Hurricane Irene affected millions living along the East Coast. A week later, Tropical Storm Lee brought heavy rainfall and widespread flooding to the Gulf Coast, and then the mid-Atlantic region, including the Passaic and Susquehanna rivers. USACE conducted flood fight operations and deployed multiple debris management, commodities distribution support, and emergency temporary power response teams in support of FEMA to the impacted states.
These are historic times for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and leaders are looking forward and setting a course for continued success.
“We are at a strategic crossroads,” said Temple. “We’re operating in a complex, resource-constrained environment and it’s going to require increased collaboration and communication with our customers, partners, and stakeholders to better serve the American public.”
USACE’s Campaign Plan, rolled out in 2008 by Van Antwerp, is guiding the organization’s transformation from “Good to Great.”
“We must build upon the foundation that already exists, aligning our Campaign Plan with the Army campaign plan and tying them to the major subordinate commands implementation plans and district operations plans and individualized ‘my plans,’” said Temple, highlighting the fact that regular command management reviews allow senior leaders to revisit the plans, assessing progress and making adjustments as necessary.
“We will continue to seek new ways to be relevant and responsive to our country and the American people,” Temple added. “The Corps is a learning organization and we must be resilient and adaptable, especially in austere times. Our workforce is 37,000 strong, representing a vast array of knowledge, skills, and competencies. We will continue to develop and sustain our core technical capabilities to answer the call and be ready for the next big mission, serving our nation proudly as we have done for more than 200 years.”
This article first appeared in the 2011-2012 edition of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers: Building Strong® publication.