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At the Tip of the Spear for USACE

Serving U.S. military and international needs in the Middle East and Central Asia

As the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers newest division, the Transatlantic Division (TAD) supports U.S. military operations and national objectives in the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) area of responsibility (AOR). Its districts are the tip of the spear for the USACE operations in a region that has been a focal point for establishing the conditions for stability even before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Today, TAD continues to provide USACE services in this dynamic geographic area, including support for overseas contingency operations.

“For more than two centuries, USACE has played an integral part in providing engineering services for the United States and other nations abroad,” said Maj. Gen. Kendall P. Cox, Transatlantic Division commander. “Today, the Transatlantic Division’s districts are executing engineering construction operations in 18 countries within the CENTCOM AOR. Afghanistan Engineer District-North, in Kabul, and Afghanistan Engineer District-South, on Kandahar Airfield, are supporting ongoing combat operations providing engineering design and construction management in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Our legacy district – the Middle East District [MED] – manages USACE programs in 16 other countries in the Arabian Gulf and Central Asia, serving a wide range of U.S. and foreign customers while simultaneously supporting the two districts in Afghanistan.

“These three districts are at the forefront for delivering quality projects and engineering excellence in support of the warfighter and our strategic partners,” Cox said. “Many projects meet operational requirements and provide quality of life facilities for the warfighter and Defense Department agencies, while other projects support the stability goals of strategic partners, both U.S. and foreign.

“Our work enables the establishment of security and stability in the region,” Cox continued. “While the projects provide critical infrastructure and much needed improvements to quality of life systems, they also support the broader strategic efforts to build local engineering capacity, develop local governance and set the conditions for the rule of law.”

USACE has had a major role throughout the Middle East for several decades. With Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom ongoing for the past 10- plus years, the USACE mission grew significantly, with a major focus on construction in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Central Asia. Concurrently, USACE has continued its engineering support to its long-time customers in the Middle East and CENTCOM region of operations.

“This work is a tremendous success story for USACE and the Department of Defense [DoD],” Cox said. “Our projects have made a significant difference in providing essential services and infrastructure. During the past 10  years, USACE has demonstrated its commitment and capability to simultaneously supporting the nation’s goals with allied nations and to serve the warfighter.”

This overseas support spans the full spectrum of engineering operations and includes support to:

  • Combatant commands in Afghanistan and Iraq;
  • Interagency partners such as the Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development;
  • Defense Department agencies operating throughout the CENTCOM region;
  • U.S. allies in the Middle East; and
  • Emergency assistance, such as that provided to Pakistan when it was devastated by a natural disaster last year.

Working with the NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan/Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan and the Joint Program Integration Office, USACE developed a plan to construct kandak (battalion-sized unit) complexes for the Afghan National Army using arch-span construction instead of traditional concrete brick and mortar as a first step in saving time and money. Photo by J.D. Hardesty

To carry out these missions in the most extraordinary of circumstances, USACE must maintain an expeditionary mindset.

“All of us within the Transatlantic Division headquarters and the subordinate districts are ready, willing, and able to execute the mission, deploying as needed anywhere, any time, with a passion and level of competence that will ensure success regardless of the situation. This is challenging for sure, but even more so, it’s exciting as we get to answer the call to make a difference every day,” Cox said.

“The FY 12 mission across the CENTCOM region is huge, with more than 1,000 projects ongoing or to be awarded, valued at nearly $14 billion. An amazing challenge that far exceeds the capacity of the two forward-deployed districts and the Middle East District, so success can only be realized by the use of a great support system and reachback capability inherent across all of USACE. TAD must rely on reachback assistance to help with project award, design, manning, and many other key supporting requirements that simply cannot be or are economically infeasible to execute forward in the contingency environment.

“Through the use of reachback support, we are able to reduce the workload in the forward areas, which allows the contingency districts to focus almost exclusively on project execution, construction management, and safety,” he added. “Other tasks are managed by supporting elements from other districts in CONUS [Continental United States], resulting in fewer people put in harm’s way by being deployed.”

 Support to Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan

The FY 12 program in Afghanistan is nearly 340 military construction and Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) projects, valued at $4 billion. The two Afghanistan districts, North and South, will execute these programs as the lead construction agents for CENTCOM in Afghanistan. To accomplish this, district personnel coordinate with stakeholders across hundreds of project sites and provide construction quality surveillance in remote and often dangerous locations, assisted by a great team of Afghan project engineers and quality assurance personnel.

The districts are constructing facilities for the fielding of the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police forces throughout the country, under the ANSF program. The ANSF program also includes teaching the Afghans how to operate and maintain their facilities, thus enabling them to ensure their facilities remain mission ready to set the conditions for security in their country. In addition, the districts are working with the Afghan government to provide water and infrastructure projects across the country that will help improve the quality of life for the Afghan people. They are also completing the remaining MILCON projects for U.S. military forces, with few new starts planned in this area as the military prepares for the drawdown of forces in FY 12 and beyond.

“These construction and capacity development programs are critical to ensuring the Afghanistan government and its security forces are capable and ready to govern and secure the country and protect the people,” Cox said.

Warfighter operations at Kandahar Airfield received improvements with the completion of a new intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) apron and hangars. The $24.8 million construction project was officially transferred to U.S. Air Force Maj. Edward P. Phillips, Air Force Central construction management officer, on May 14, 2011, from U.S. Army Lt. Col. Martha E. Kiene, AED-South deputy commander. To meet additional ISR requirements in Afghanistan, phase two of the Air Force’s ISR ramp project began turning dirt March 2011 at Kandahar Airfield. Photo by Brenda L. Beasley (AED-South)

The ANSF program, valued at $9.7 billion, is one of the largest programs in USACE. It now has a greater sense of urgency because of its shortened timeline to support President Barack Obama’s 2014 goal to end the current U.S. combat mission and transition to a training and support function in Afghanistan. USACE is employing innovative and partnering approaches to expedite construction, such as the use of arch-span construction rather than traditional brick and mortar, allowing for facilities to be erected quicker. TAD is also working closely with the Defense Logistics Agency and the CENTCOM J4 by acquiring large quantities of steel in advance as government-furnished property for the arch-span facilities. This is also being expanded to include transformers, electrical transmission and feeder cables, and other long lead-time items that will reduce the material delivery time for the contractors in the area. Finally, TAD is using varied contracting methods to expand the pool of responsible contractors to ensure success across a program this large that must be delivered in a very short time period.

Support to Operations Iraqi Freedom and New Dawn in Iraq

During the past nine years, USACE has contributed to the stability of Iraq through the planning, construction, and completion of more than 8,500 reconstruction projects and procurements valued at more than $15.5 billion.

As the massive reconstruction program was winding down, the Gulf Region Division completed 331 projects valued at more than $1.4 billion in FY 10 alone, while simultaneously closing down the division headquarters and consolidating the existing three districts into one district, the Gulf Region District, in May 2010.

The district completed many of the remaining reconstruction projects as it worked toward its own closure. On June 2, 2011, a transfer of authority between the Gulf Region District and the MED occurred, passing the mantle of leadership for the remaining legacy projects and Foreign Military Sales (FMS) projects, totaling just under $1 billion, to the Middle East District. The MED then established the Iraq Area Office (IAO) in Baghdad to manage the remaining USACE projects.

The work in Iraq is far from complete, as legacy projects are completed and new projects have emerged. Today there are still close to 40 projects remaining, planned, or ongoing, which include:

  • $495 million in FMS projects to support the Iraqi Ministry of Defense operations, to include administrative offices, barracks, Iraqi air force requirements, utilities and support facilities, as well as FMS projects for the Ministry of Interior that include a border roads program and possible ports of entries in the future;
  • $114 million in Iraqi Security Forces Fund projects, which support the fielding of Iraq military forces. Most of this program is complete and will finish in 2012;
  • Support to the State Department, funded at $22 million, for engineering services, administrative areas, procurement and construction; and
  • $110 million in overhead cover projects, funded by DoD, at three Office of Security Cooperation-Iraq locations.

The IAO is staffed with 28 civilians and military members, as well as many Iraqi engineers who conduct quality assurance and quality control under a personal services contract. Work currently funded is expected to be complete by the end of FY 13.

Support to CENTCOM and the Region

The Middle East District and its predecessor organizations have nearly 60 years’ experience in the Middle East. Its mission is to provide quality responsive engineering, construction, and related services in response to military operations, international objectives overseas, and national emergencies.

The district supports projects in 18 countries in the CENTCOM AOR, plus Kosovo and Romania:

  • Afghanistan;
  • Bahrain;
  • Egypt;
  • Iraq;
  • Jordan;
  • Kazakhstan;
  • Kuwait;
  • Kyrgyzstan;
  • Lebanon;
  • Oman;
  • Pakistan;
  • Qatar;
  • Saudi Arabia;
  • Tajikistan;
  • Turkmenistan;
  • United Arab Emirates;
  • Uzbekistan, and;
  • Yemen.

The Middle East District’s work is focused on four major areas:

  • Designing and constructing facilities for the U.S. Army, U.S. Air Force, and U.S. Navy units assigned in locations such as Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates. Projects are carried out under government-to-government agreements;
  • Managing service contracts for U.S. and foreign customers. These contracts include operations-and-maintenance services for minor construction, repair, and facilities support; architect-engineer services; logistics services; security services; and personal services. Projects are carried out in Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt, the Balkans, and other locations;
  • Managing international and interagency programs, such as building facilities under FMS programs. These projects are carried out in Egypt, Jordan, and certain Central Asian countries; and
  • Providing design and contracting services to support construction programs in Afghanistan. In addition, the district provides support services such as legal, resource management, equal opportunity, logistics, information technology, security, and deployment processing.

USACE’s ability to execute these contingencies-based programs in a timely manner requires a capability to deploy civilians unlike any other in DoD. “Hundreds of Corps of Engineers personnel and other DoD and contractor civilians have processed through the USACE Deployment Center [UDC] at the Middle East District before deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Col. Jon L. Christensen, district commander. “Many of these people work with the Middle East District during their deployment for reachback support and other administrative assistance. The UDC has been critical to our ability to deploy over 1,000 civilians over the past 10 years and ensure success for the contingency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Middle East District constructed a state-of-the-art communications facility that will serve the needs of the U.S. Army at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait. Photo by Roger Thomas (Middle East District)

“But while support to Afghanistan and Iraq is a vital and important part of our mission, the Middle East District does more than support the overseas contingency operations mission,” Christensen continued. “Our projects throughout the Middle East, Central Asia, and the Balkans make a global impact as we work with customers to provide facilities for U.S. forces to operate from or as we improve infrastructure in allied nations. District personnel are actively engaged in managing a wide range of projects – from small maintenance to multimillion dollar contracts – in the most remote locations. And as the enduring district in TAD and the region, we provide continuity in a region where relationship building is essential to program success.”

 FY 12 and Beyond

FY 12 continues to be a busy and challenging time for the Transatlantic Division. The two Afghanistan districts are scheduled to award projects valued at approximately $5.3 billion, while the MED is scheduled, via reachback, to award more than 30 projects totaling nearly $600 million for operations in Afghanistan, with an additional 95 projects valued at $1.7 billion elsewhere in the CENTCOM AOR.

“Awarding and executing a program this large is only possible through teamwork across all of our districts, and I am absolutely confident success will be achieved,” Cox said. “With both a large program to deliver and award, I have decided this will be the ‘Year of Awardecution,’ because both awards and execution must be realized for us to be successful across all programs.”

Some of the major challenges that the districts face are the size and volume of work required, labor and materiel capacity, transportation routes, security, and time. All of these require unique solutions, but they must also be linked to supporting the warfighter in the region. CENTCOM recently published counterinsurgency construction implementation guidance that requires USACE teams, both forward and through reachback, to:

  • Finish strong with all projects started being completed;
  • Understand the operational environment impacting construction;
  • Implement best practices – go/no-go criteria;
  • Site location – walk the site, force protection requirements, mine clearing, water, and real estate;
  • Austere design – simple, sustainable savings; and
  • Contractor qualifications (vetting) – acceptable record of past performance and available capacity.

“All of these must be incorporated into our program management and execution plans to ensure we are in compliance with our primary teammate and remain value-added to the warfighter and the region.

“During the past year, the Transatlantic Division has grown as a team and is well on its way to being a well-oiled machine, able to accomplish any mission, anywhere. With the large program ongoing and another large portion still to be awarded, this is critical if we are to be successful as the lead DoD construction agent for CENTCOM in the years ahead,” Cox added.

“I have seen firsthand the work of our districts’ people, and in every instance, have been amazed at the professionalism and focused execution by each member of our team, no matter where they’re located,” he said. “‘Excellence’ is our watchword, and we have a responsibility to deliver for USACE and our strategic partners overseas. We are committed to delivering projects at a quality that exceeds the expectations of our customers, and we must do this every time.

“The division and its districts are one family,” Cox added. “Individually and collectively, we can be proud of the division’s two years’ of accomplishments, and these accomplishments can be directly attributed to the great men and women who serve both here in Winchester, Va., and over the ocean in Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, and many other countries in the CENTCOM area of responsibility. Each person has an integral role in the success of our mission. Their professionalism, selfless service, and true dedication to excellence are the qualities that will ensure our success at the tip of the spear!”

Engineering Excellence!

This article first appeared in the 2011-2012 edition of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers: Building Strong®, Serving the Nation and the Armed Forces.