News: Engineer Week keeps USACE strong
Story by Sgt. Samuel Northrup
FORT HOOD, Texas – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been around since 1775. Since then the engineers have been called upon countless times during conflicts to fulfill multiple missions such as building fortifications at Bunker Hill, setting up pontoons for troop crossing during the civil war, and conducting route clearance missions in Afghanistan.
Each conflict is different and brings with it another generation of Soldiers with new experiences and expertise; that is why 36th Engineer Brigade hosted Engineer Week, a four-day conference held at Fort Hood March 31 to April 3.
Engineer week brought the Active Army, Army Reserve and Army National Guard components together for leader professional development on lessons learned recently in Afghanistan, the future of the engineer regiment, force structure, team building, maintaining relationships among the components, and relearning old skills.
“The purpose of the week is to get back to those decisive action tasks that we sort of forgotten over the years because we have been fighting these wars over in Iraq in Afghanistan,” said Col. Heath Roscoe, the 36th Engineer Brigade commander. “We are going to do a series of leader professional developments that gets back to breaching, offensive/defensive operations, counter mobility, and bridging to ensure the engineer regiment is able to support our maneuver folks.”
Lt. Col. Daniel Hibner, the 4th Engineer Battalion commander, explained how the focus for engineers shifted due to the nature of what was going on in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Engineers are beginning to use equipment they have not used in about ten years such as the M113 armored vehicles, armored vehicle-launch bridges and mine clearing line charges.
“There was a demand for a route clearance counter IED capability and the regiment stepped up and provided that,” said Hibner. “Battalions such as mine were reorganized in support of our nation’s priorities and now we have an opportunity for us to get back to our core competencies that are for a broader spectrum of operations.”
Hibner said the engineers are keeping the route clearance capability and they are also going to get back to using the units for their original intent.
“The Engineers are undergoing a significant transformation with the brigade engineer battalions,” said Roscoe. “… We use to have engineer battalions in the brigade combat teams. When we transferred to these modular BCTs, the engineer battalion was the bill payer that got taken out. So there was a big push from the maneuver community and engineer community to put the engineer battalions back in the BCTs.”
Roscoe explained how the Army Reserve, National Guard, and the active component have trained and operated as one unit. The Army Reserve and National Guard are meshed with the active component to become better trained and better equipped.
“Our force structure has 70 percent of the engineer units located in the National Guard and reserve,” said Roscoe. “You quickly see if we have another full scale event where we have to call upon a lot of Soldiers, then we are going to have to pull from our reserve and National Guard folks to help support the effort.”
The time spent in Iraq and Afghanistan made it clear that the engineers functioned not as a pure active component, Roscoe said. Sometimes an active duty battalion commander has Army Reserve subordinate companies; sometimes it is the other way around.
“We deployed to Afghanistan and I pulled in a team of engineers: three were active duty companies, two were National Guard companies, and two were Army Reserve companies,” Hibner said. “Because their competency and their skills were on par with active duty, it made it so we were able to hit the ground running and effectively provide construction and route clearance support to maneuver commanders throughout the battle space. That is testament to how closely integrated and the reserve, National Guard, and active duty engineers are.”
Even though the three engineer components are seamlessly integrated, it was not always the case according to Brig. Gen. Tracy Thompson, the 420th Engineer Brigade commander, Army Reserve.
“Prior to Afghanistan and Iraq, the three components didn’t do a lot of training together,” Thompson said. “They were almost like three wary animals circling each other at the beginning, wondering how everything was going to work. Since then we’ve worked together virtually all the time in every corner of Iraq and Afghanistan and that has built relationships between all the components; we don’t want to lose the excellent progress and great working relationships we have established.”
Events such as Engineer Week are important to keep the relationships among the components alive, according to Thompson. In an era of shrinking resources it becomes more important to operate together to complete missions at home and abroad.
“It is all about coming together with efforts like Engineer Week,” said Thompson. “There a lot projects the 36th Engineer Brigade is working on at Fort Hood and other locations. I have construction engineers and there are things maybe the 36th Engineer Brigade cannot do, or they can do part of and we can complete. There are gaps that the guard and the reserve can fill in where the active cannot and sometimes it is just cheaper and makes more sense because of location of personnel and time.
“This is probably the first of what I hope will be many events like this,” Thompson said. “I could not agree more with the premise of Engineer Week; we have put a lot of sweat and tears into developing these relationships. At every level I’ve seen, from the private to the sergeant, from the senior noncommissioned officers to the company and general officer levels, everyone has come away thinking ‘holy cow, we cannot lose this.’”