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U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Support to Combatant Commands

Providing military-to-military assistance and humanitarian response for partner nations

Providing support to the nation’s joint combatant commands (COCOMs) is an important and critical mission of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), growing from previous combat command structures dating back to the founding of USACE. A large proportion of USACE mission assignments come from the Department of Defense’s (DoD) six geographic and three functional COCOMs.

support to combatant commands

Albania’s largest hospital, Mother Teresa University Hospital Center, in Tirana, as seen on Jan. 11, 2012. Twelve major regional hospitals will soon be linked through a virtual network enabling high-quality, uniform health care for all citizens. The construction of the new telemedicine centers, funded by the U.S. European Command (EUCOM) and managed by the USACE Europe District, will allow health care professionals to conduct e-learning, consultations, and even diagnose patients remotely. Once the Albanian government approved the telemedicine concept, EUCOM and USACE started working in tandem with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The renovation of all 12 e-health centers is scheduled for completion in late 2013 or early 2014. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Europe District photo by Mark Nedzbala

The oldest is the Pacific Command (PACOM), established Jan. 1, 1947, with headquarters at Camp Smith, Hawaii; the European Command stood up three months later at Patch Barracks, Germany. Since then, DoD has created four more geographic COCOMs (GCCs): Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) in Miami, Fla. (responsible for Latin America and the Caribbean); Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base (AFB), Fla. (the Middle East, North Africa, and Southwest and Central Asia); Northern Command at Peterson AFB, Colo. (North America); and, in 2007, Africa Command (AFRICOM).

The functional COCOMs (FCCs) are more recent than most of the GCCs. Special Operations Command stood up at MacDill AFB, Fla., in 1987, Transportation Command at Scott AFB, Ill., in 1987, and Strategic Command at Offutt AFB, Neb., in 1992, replacing the old Strategic Air Command and, in 2002, merging with the U.S. Space Command and absorbing DoD’s primary cyberspace operations.

“The Corps of Engineers has aligned one of its subordinate commands – a division, commanded by a general officer – with each GCC. That is a formal lash-up and those commanders are an asset for the COCOM and his staff to use. It really expands his bandwidth, having 34,000 members of the Corps at his disposal,” Jim Balocki, chief of Interagency and International Services (IIS), explained.

“We also maintain a full-time liaison on each COCOM’s staff who is there 24/7/365, living and breathing that COCOM’s mission and reporting back up through the Corps’ command channels. They generally sit in the J-4 [Logistics] element of the COCOM staff, which is where the staff engineer – usually a colonel from one of the services – resides. We also spend time working with the J-5 [Plans], because it is important to understand future plans and what engineering resources may be needed.”

The relationship with the functional COCOMs has a significantly different structure that is still evolving, but Balocki said USACE is “making an effort to reach out for their global, rather than geographic, missions, trying to determine how we might best advise them.”

“We don’t have liaison officers sitting with them, so we don’t have the same day-to-day connectivity we have with the GCCs and their staffs. However, if you just think about the things these guys do, their need to maintain access to critical infrastructure – airports, roadways, ports, etc. – their ability to understand the utility of that infrastructure and find alternatives are all places where the technical skills and capabilities of the Corps are relevant. It’s about advising those COCOMs and their staffs that those skills are available to them – establishing a set of business principals and relationships and some way to keep that going through future leaders to make that an enduring relationship,” he said.

“A lot of the solution sets are the same, but get back to understanding the needs of a particular commander. Their needs are a little different due to the effects they are trying to achieve, but the projects of the Corps may be – or seem – very similar, even though the end-state may differ from that of the GCCs. There also are times when the Corps can be involved in a project that supports two different effects – one for a GCC and one for an FCC.”

The most common area of support is capacity development. Each GCC has a theater security cooperation plan, with USACE embedded at the planning level, seeking to understand the end-state objectives of those plans. As a result, a number of USACE programs executed in a given GCC may support many – or even all – of the COCOM’s theater objectives. In some instances, however, it is difficult to categorize what USACE does.

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