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USACE, EUCOM successfully integrate joint engineer team onto 'battlefield'

June 2, 2011

By Ms Rachel V Goodspeed (USACE)

KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany -- In 2009, U.S. military forces saw the activation of the first Joint Force Engineer Command in Afghanistan, which centralized engineering efforts and assets across the theater to facilitate and coordinate engineer operations.

Recently, U.S. forces saw another first for the JFEC concept " the integration of this team of professional engineers from all service branches in support of the U.S. European Command’s area of responsibility.

With help from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Army Reserve’s 416th Theater Engineer Command, EUCOM tested the JFEC’s capability outside the war zone during a training exercise.

“Overall, it’s been an astounding success and a positive ordeal,” said Lt. Col. Frank Hopkins, JFEC director and 416th TEC deputy chief of staff for civil-military operations. “We were able to demonstrate the flexibility of joint engineering and how quickly the JFEC can adapt. We had a pretty solid plan once we hit the ground.”

Prior to deployment, a deployable command post was established in exercise that required modifying Joint Military Doctrine to incorporate Field Force Engineering and service component engineers into the DCP to become a JFEC. USACE and the 416th TEC were also heavily involved in the Master Scenario Events List process, allowing them to conduct a shaping operation to produce the desired effects.

“In the future, we hope to provide an even more robust JFEC capability with additional interagency plugs to include a Joint Program Integration Office,” Hopkins said. “This would be the model used prior to an operational deployment to validate a DCP.”

The resulting success proved a concept of technical engineers fielded forward to answer questions that traditionally wouldn’t be available in theater or to the Joint Task Force, said Maj. Mabry Sumner, exercise control group coordinator for all engineering activities.

“The JFEC cuts down on response time and puts a visible face to the JTF commander with a robust technical capability,” said Sumner, a supervisory engineer from the USACE Baltimore District who is also a member of the 416th TEC and USACE’s Contingency Response Unit. “The JFEC concept works, follows engineer doctrine and has a strong potential for use for any JTF that will face any infrastructure issues.”

The team’s efficiency was clearly demonstrated by its response to the scenario and more than 20 situational events, Sumner said. All engineer events injected to the training audience were successfully analyzed, resolved and communicated between the JFEC, the JTF, EUCOM and all subordinate commands via daily engineering sync meetings.

“We were able to simulate a Forward Engineering Support Team-Main and push out FFE teams like the FEST-A [Advance], CREST [Construction Real Estate Support Team] and ENVST [Environmental Support Team] since we know their capabilities,” said Capt. Nathan Smith, a FEST lead and project engineer with the USACE Europe District. “Whenever we weren’t working on an RFI [request for information] or products, we were anticipating future missions like river crossings and restoring key infrastructure, developing products, and researching responses before they were even asked. We were definitely engaged the entire time and the team worked really well together.”

The exercise also tested the FEST’s capability to establish and utilize tele-engineering communications systems, conduct reconnaissance, develop a base camp, and test contracting and acquisition support.

The JFEC, in essence, is a deployable, movable command post that supports both the Joint Task Force engineer and the Combatant Command engineer, according to Lt. Col. Reggie Truss, JFEC deputy director and 416th TEC operations officer.

“Doctrine is still being developed, but the exercise helped us validate JP3-34 [Engineer Doctrine for Joint Operations],” he said. “The JFEC is joint in nature. It has people trained in a joint language and has people who are trained on equipment.”

The JFEC also provides additional operational and tactical engineering capabilities not normally available during an exercise, according to Erik Fleischner, USACE liaison officer to EUCOM who introduced the idea of utilizing the JFEC to the joint command and service component engineers.

“Our Joint Task Force engineer staff standard operating procedures pre-dated the DCP/JFEC concept. The doctrine is still valid, but the engineering structure needs to be updated and the JFEC plugged in,” he said. “The JFEC gave us a powerful liaison capability to the engineers on the ground. We had service engineers integrated from the strategic level all the way down to the tactical level and the JFEC was the facilitating mechanism. The JFEC was a significant force multiplier for engineer future operations planning.”

“Based on what has been done here, we have validated the doctrine. We know what specific engineers and skill sets we need on the JFEC, and now we can define them more clearly. Before, it was just a guess,” said Lt. Col. Damon Montgomery, an exercise and training planner for USACE in Europe. “Even though we were exercising the JFEC concept for the first time [in EUCOM’s AOR], the JFEC handled much more operational engineering tasks than I envisioned they would, which is great because we’re supposed to be planning for the real world.”

Overall, the training event included a large amount of engineering play. Historically, exercises more often than not simulate rather than play out engineer roles, according to Lt. Col. Michael Seguin, EUCOM’s branch chief of Operations.

“In exercises, they [the engineers] become the hodgepodge because no one knows how to do the job,” he said. “Without a robust engineering footprint, nothing gets done. The military engineers are the first guys on the ground. They affect the mobility of the force. And then, once we ‘win the war,’ what do we do? We have to re-establish the infrastructure, essential services and transportation networks.”

“The JFEC is a force multiplier, a proficient coordinating mechanism,” Fleischner added. “Many times in exercises, engineers are thrown into the mix regardless of training. The result is the placement of tactical engineers at the operational level for which many times they don’t really have the skill set. The JFEC are the engineers who can do this and they do it exceptionally well " bridging the gap from the tactical level to strategic. They were the ‘Engineer Hero’s of the Exercise’ providing the engineer planning and reachback that allowed engineers to consistently stay ahead of the commander’s decision cycle.”

Not only was the JFEC successful in demonstrating its capabilities in EUCOM’s joint operations, the joint team learned a lot about each other’s sister service capabilities. The team linked up with the U.S. Army, USACE Field Force Engineering, Naval Facilities Engineering Command and U.S. Air Force to become a command post of engineers, Truss said.

“We’re trying to train our Army guys to not be afraid to assign a Navy person an activity, and vice versa, because they weren’t sure what their capability is,” he said. “But as we learn about each other and we know their capability, we’ve minimized the duplication of efforts. We’ve gotten to the point where we don’t see the different color uniforms.”

The integration allows for an even greater network of reachback support, Montgomery said.

“The JFEC is a big ‘helpdesk’ where they have the ability to call back to the experts if they don’t have the answer,” he said. “This is our first time combining Field Force Engineering assets with a JFEC to participate in an exercise and it’s something we hope to keep doing.”

Col. Leon Parrott, EUCOM’s deputy engineer, said the JFEC was the right step in the right direction.

“The JFEC allowed us to truly sync all engineering activities throughout the theater. It allowed us to focus on the strategic level of combat. While the JFEC was looking inside each of the countries, we were able to look outside that area,” he said. “Not only does the JFEC allow me to do my job, it allows the JTF engineer to do his job.”

“The JFEC made life a lot easier for us because we had a lot of engineers down range,” Seguin added. “From our standpoint, people don’t have their arms around the engineering portion when we run these exercises because they don’t have that engineering background. The JFEC members are engineers by trade so they really contributed a lot to the effectiveness and practicality of this exercise.”

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