Warfighter support at heart of USACE mission, chief says

Published June 4, 2013
STUTTGART, Germany – Support to American and coalition warfighters remains a top priority at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the chief of engineers told service component commanders during a weeklong trip to Europe.

From GPS capabilities for small tactical units to battlefield robotics and combat vehicle designs, USACE is constantly researching, developing and advancing technologies to bolster troops in operational environments around the globe, said Lt. Gen. Thomas P. Bostick, the agency’s commanding general. The general visited European Command and Africa Command leaders here in mid-May and also met with senior military representatives from U.S. Army Africa, U.S. Army Europe, U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Installation Management Command-Europe elsewhere in Germany and Italy.

“We will continue to support the nation and our warfighters with world-class engineering and scientific expertise through these challenging times,” he said. “A lot of the things that we do in order to accomplish our mission in day-to-day life in the military require some of the greatest minds in science, technology, engineering and math.”

On any given day, USACE is engaged in more than 130 countries around the world, supporting the State Department, allied forces, NATO, the U.S. Agency for International Development, ambassadors and embassies. Bostick said much of that collaboration and backing goes to combatant commanders.

“We’re doing everything from disaster relief and humanitarian assistance to water-resource management and construction,” he said. “We coordinate with interagency teams that are working to ensure the security and stability in many of these countries. In any way that we can help the combatant commander and ambassador to ensure the security and stability goals are met, that allows those countries to do many of the things they need to do to maintain a secure environment.

“Hopefully, that secure environment will prevent the need for any future conflict or support by our U.S. or NATO forces to go into a situation that would require our services.”

USACE and its partners can make a significant difference in conflict prevention, the chief added.

“A part of it is what we do during peacetime,” he said. “In any country … what people need is security. They want to have a sound government and basic needs of a home, with good education for their children; they need food, water and a safe place to raise their families. The corps is involved in much of that.”

Bostick said USACE Europe District, in particular, is doing a great deal to support installations, AFRICOM and EUCOM in their ability to tackle strategic stability operations around both theaters. The organization is blessed with “technically competent and highly motivated” personnel, he added.

“It’s clear they’re working as a well-oiled team,” he said. “They’ve got a huge mission, one of the most significant missions in the entire Corps of Engineers. … The transformation that’s going on in Europe today is unprecedented. A lot of that is going to occur because of the Corps of Engineers and the work they do in partnership with IMCOM and the other leaders throughout U.S. Army Europe.

“They’re not only doing work for the installation that supports the warfighter, they’re doing work for the combatant commanders it supports.”

Europe District has teamed with AFRICOM to deliver small engineering and environmental projects for partners in the region and achieve key objectives. It’s been involved in agricultural and infrastructure upgrades and also managed the construction of educational and medical facilities.

As a whole, USACE is using science and research to help meet warfighter needs, Bostick said. The Engineering Research and Development Center has seven laboratories in four states and an office in London that manages science and technological partnerships throughout Europe.

As casualties mounted in the early days of the war on terror in Afghanistan and Iraq, many of the robots used by U.S. troops in the hunt for improvised explosive devices emerged under a “drastic and immediate need” to address warfighter requirements, the general said.

“The [ERDC] is providing state-of-the-art technology that helps protect the warfighter today,” he said. “We are working on how to combat IEDs … particularly in some of the vehicle designs the Army is producing. We’re helping to test and develop that, and turn these decisions very quickly – much faster than we would in past wars.”

Four full-scale IED experiments were conducted recently at Fort Polk, La., to evaluate a new polymer material with a lightweight coating to mitigate the effects of a culvert-placed roadside bomb. The Army Research Laboratory was part of an analysis team that tested such blasts on two fully instrumented anthropomorphic dummies, representative of crew members inside vehicles.

On top of military advancements, USACE completed $18 billion in construction of infrastructure across Iraq, Bostick said. So far, it’s carried out $6 billion in Afghanistan projects, with an additional $6 billion set for the next 12-18 months. Hospitals, schools, police facilities, and local military barracks and ranges were among the structures built.

“When you talk about winning the hearts and minds of the local people, which is very important in our overall strategy, [they are] most concerned with living in a stable environment,” he added. “The construction of those facilities is very important to the warfighter so they can execute their mission.”

In the past dozen years, 1.3 million Soldiers have deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. During that span, about 30,000 civilians also went into war zones – 11,000 have come from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the chief said.

“The Corps of Engineers is a unique organization, part of a bigger team,” he continued. “We are the nation’s engineers. We’re honored to serve. We look forward to continue producing great products for the country, and to design and build great projects.”