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Capacity builders and developers: a case for theater-enabling engagement engineers in security cooperation operations.

Beyond the traditional World War II era functions of combat and general construction engineering supporting friendly forces described in the venerable tome Builders and Fighters, (1) today's U.S. Army engineers also must build capacity and foster development in other nations during war and peace. Army engineers can contribute significantly to the achievement of national security and foreign policy goals in the preconflict permissive environment of theater campaign plan (TCP) Phase 0 through foundational engagement activities such as security cooperation, partner capacity-building, and humanitarian assistance--shaping regions to prevent conflict and promote U.S. interests without force.

To more broadly employ engineer forces requires the Army to eliminate an undocumented theater army (TA) mission command gap among existing echelons-above brigade (EAB) combat team engineer headquarters to best support geographic combatant commander and country team national security and foreign policy execution. Specifically, it should designate the EAB theater-enabling engagement engineer (TE3) headquarters responsible for, and empowered to, undertake the full breadth of Army engineer activities consistent with geographic combatant commander and TA TCPs. TE3 headquarters would exercise mission command for Army engineer engagement rather than just serve as force providers. Assigned active theater engineer brigades in U.S. Army Pacific and U.S. Army Europe and a newly forming active brigade in U.S. Army Central, coupled with aligned reserve theater engineer commands (TECs) supporting U.S. Army South and U.S. Army Africa, meet the mark. (2)

Geographic combatant commanders focus on normal and routine military and various interagency activities in Phase 0 to shape perceptions, influence behavior, and deter conflict. (3) Within the peacetime military engagement operational theme, Army engineers assist in shaping the security environment, maintaining presence, and fostering military-to-military cooperation. (4) Key programmatic activities include exercise-related construction and forces for Joint Chiefs of Staff exercises, construction under humanitarian assistance, humanitarian civic assistance, civic action teams, global peace operations initiative authorities, and unit exchanges under the defense and military contacts program. Operations among all of these program areas routinely entail a 1- to 2-year, joint event life cycle at a level of complexity and detail best managed by a dedicated headquarters with planning and operational capabilities. (5) Presently, engineer headquarters are involved with, but not fully responsible for, engineer engagement. With an ability to tangibly deliver, as measured by the lifespan of a structure and the activities it enables when compared to more fleeting engagements, engineers should be among the first units that the Army dedicates to this role.

Current Situation

Assessing current doctrine and forces reveals an undocumented Army engineer mission command deficit for TCP operations. EAB engineer headquarters are either missing at the TA level, or they are subordinate to the theater sustainment command (TSC). Their primary focus is internal and on missions assigned by higher headquarters. Their secondary focus is on the TCP and the support of external units. In either case, the deputy chief of staff, engineering (DCSENG), as the TA engineer coordinator, is the special staff element responsible for planning across multiple operational themes, arriving at force employment concepts and synchronizing the overall effort. (6) Programming, planning, and coordinating engagement events to employ engineer units in support of the TCP typically requires considerable effort by DCSENG staffs, whether or not it is a specified mission-essential task. (7) DCSENG staffs, however, are not resourced at the level for programmatic oversight and project planning for the number of events maximizing TCP engagement.

The EAB engineer command headquarters suitable for a TE3 role are the engineer brigade and the TEC. In fact, capacity-building is among five unified land operations mission-essential tasks for both organizations, with the TEC emphasizing planning and the brigade emphasizing execution. (8) TECs possess the capability, but lack sufficient depth to support all TA headquarters peacetime, military engagements. While designed to command engineers at the EAB level across the spectrum of conflict, the Army's two TECs (in the Reserve Component) do not directly align with any TA headquarters, do not have the capacity to support all TAs, and lack forward presence. (9)

Regular Army engineer brigades are well postured to provide TE3 support, particularly when assigned to a specific theater, as in the Pacific and Europe. Achieving this entails charging them with theater-wide engineer engagement missions. Army engineer and operations doctrine allows the streamlining of the engineer brigade reporting chain directly to the TA, but the TSC could serve as a suitable intermediate headquarters between the TA and the proposed TE3 brigade. A brigade-resourced technical plug similar to the premodular, five-person assistant division engineer cell (with communication among the brigade, DCSENG, and TSC) and the passing of the engineer engagement mandate from the TA through the TSC could posture this arrangement for success. It is also consistent with joint doctrine, which considers engineering a core logistic capability and creates vertical alignment with the geographic combatant commander joint staff logistics directorate, where logistics, engineering, and security assistance are nested.


Designating TE3s for each TA Phase 0 TCP entails a total Army approach acceptable in light of current and future force structure, management, and generation considerations. Making a decision on TE3 in 2012 yields a glide slope toward the earliest implementation in 2015. Peacetime engagement missions can be developed and validated in the Joint Capability Requirements Manager System and then sourced through Global Force Management.

Aligning the TECs for theater engagement enables the recently formed U.S. Army Africa and resource-challenged U.S. Army South. Each 244-person TEC can provide regionally focused planning support from among its full-time staff and Reserve Component training days to one TA's peacetime engagement requirements, while also exercising training and readiness oversight over subordinate units and sustaining its own readiness for global contingencies. TEC responsibility for U.S. Army Africa and U.S. Army South is consistent with the emerging vision at U.S. Army Forces Command and the Office of the Chief of Army Reserve.10 Technical support for program and project management details can be provided to the TEC headquarters by subordinate forward engineer support teams-main and forward engineer support teams-augmenting or by U.S. Army National Guard construction management sections, depending on the training needs of the units and Army force generation cycles.

Additional challenges to employing the TECs and subordinate U.S. Army Reserve and National Guard brigades include the need to rework the State Partnership Program between the U.S. Army National Guard and partner nations and possible objections by the U.S. Army Reserve Command to aligning TECs with specific TA areas of responsibility. Doctrinally, the informal nature of an aligned relationship affords TECs the flexibility to balance regionally focused theater engagement activities with global responsibility inherent in their core mission to operate as the senior engineer headquarters in a theater of war. (11)

The risk of TECs being less ready for worldwide deployment is mitigated by committed Regular Army brigades in theaters where TECs are not resident. Preserving TECs solely for worldwide wartime theater employment is inefficient and inconsistent with the Quadrennial Defense Review priority objective to preserve the all-volunteer force by seamlessly integrating an operationally effective reserve. (12),(13) When contingencies require a TEC, the assigned TE3 brigade develops the situation beyond Phase 0 and then transitions responsibility to the TEC as its early entry, functional, and mission command modules arrive in the time-phased force deployment flow. (14) The TEC's associated redirection from the prevent-and-deter activities of ongoing military engagement to pressing operational needs is a basic, forceplanning tenet. (15),(16),(17)

Three of the soon-to-be six Regular Army engineer brigades should be redesignated as "theater enabling" units. Also appropriate is formally tasking the brigades in Hawaii and Germany with the TE3 mission through their parent TSC and fully empowering them for the missions that they already partially perform. A third engineer brigade should be reassigned as the U.S. Army Central TE3 unit and stationed at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, near Shaw Air Force Base. Adding a new, nine-person construction management section and restationing a 14-person survey and design section from among the 12 in the active inventory is also required.

The TE3 construct employs Regular Army engineer brigades consistent with their doctrinal and experiential capabilities in deployed operations. These headquarters can lead two to five subordinate units using up to two scalable deployable command posts. Their span of control is extremely relevant since the established Army force generation process, maturing brigade combat teams engineer battalion initiative, and an emerging U.S. Army Forces Command proposed modular force mission command plan adaptation may lead to more TCP engagement rotation missions by engineer units lacking a parent engineer brigade headquarters. The resident TE3 brigade, with a reduced training readiness authority role and an increased latent span of control owing to potential conversion of subordinate units into brigade engineer battalions, would be pivotal in setting conditions for the success of rotating units and maintaining consistent standards across the theater. Furthermore, TE3 formations also provide an operational node where U.S. Army Corps of Engineers field force engineering assets can plug in to add technical depth.


The maturing engineer engagement program of U.S. Army Pacific illustrates linkages with national security and highlights a need for dedicated engineer theater-level headquarters leadership. The 412th TEC's 2010 transformation and recall of its Hawaii detachment stymied the U.S. Army Pacific's desire for an aligned engineer command concurrent with the 130th Engineer Brigade's return from combat deployment to its Pacific theater assignment in 2010. While not designated a TE3 unit, the brigade assumed a major TCP role by transitioning a series of engagements from planning to execution, providing the TSC with a small engineer plug to ensure engineer expertise on the staff and facilitate communication among the TSC, brigade, and TA DCSENG and operations directorates.

Ten company equivalent, bilateral or multilateral events in 2011 emerged from 2 years of collaboration between the U.S. Army Pacific DCSENG, the command's security cooperation division, and U.S. Pacific Command program managers working with U.S. diplomatic missions. Partner nations vary from those with mutual defense treaties to others where the United States is vying with China for influence. A biannual field exercise with India--increasingly important geopolitically--added a combat engineer platoon to a troop list that included the largest Stryker deployment outside Iraq and Afghanistan during its last iteration.18 Two-thirds of the events were performed by the brigade units, and the balance by U.S. Army Reserve units. Events included school construction, a 6-month civic assistance deployment, and the brigade's command post serving as a combined, joint, civil-military operations task force headquarters leading coalition construction, training, medical, and veterinary missions.

While geographic combatant commander and TA staffs historically performed the majority of engagement program development with brigades responsible for execution, the robust modular brigade headquarters and an Army-wide "flattening" trajectory that will emanate from the new "Army operating concept" and related idea of "mission command" portend the TE3 era. Specifically, the Army operating concept includes "sustained engagement focused on developing partner capacity" as a TA level mission, while "mission command" relies on the "role of the commander in building teams with joint, interagency, intergovernmental, and multinational partners" and emphasizes "pass[ing] resources and responsibility 'to the edge' " while recognizing "that the best understanding comes from the bottom up." (19) The engineer brigade headquarters in a TE3 role represents one way to make the new doctrine operational and potentially achieve significant results at the low end of the spectrum of conflict.


Empowered TE3 headquarters have a role to play on the 21st century defense, diplomacy, and development team in shaping operations that prevent and deter conflict. As part of the TA, they provide an ability to build partner nation capacity by performing traditional construction tasks in support of, and in partnership with, local, regional, and national entities to support geographic combatant command national security and country team foreign policy execution. Despite suitable organizations, a heretofore undocumented gap exists since they lack a TA level mandate to exercise mission command for Army engineer engagement, rather than just provide forces to it. Making organization, mission, and resource decisions in 2012 puts Army EAB combat team engineers on a glide path to contribute substantially starting in 2015, as engineer combat operational tempo declines and civilian power growth portended in the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Defense Review increases. Ultimately, the proposed TE3 construct bridges an undocumented--but important--engineer mission command gap, mobilizing latent modular control capability and capacity for theater-wide peacetime engagement.

(This article was composed by Lieutenant Colonel Mark A. Winkler and Mr. James R. Rowan, from the U.S. Army Engineer School, Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. It is an abridged version of the original. For the full text, go to <>.)


(1.) Barry W. Fowle, Builders and Fighters: U.S. Army Engineers in World War II, University Press of the Pacific, 28 March 2005.

(2.) Patrick M. Cronin and Brian M. Burton, "Beyond Borders: Developing Comprehensive National Security Policies to Address Complex Regional Challenges," Center for a New American Security, Washington D.C., December 1991, p. 10.

(3.) While beyond the scope of this endeavor, the reality of time-phased force deployments dictates that TE3s will be the de facto theater-enabling engagement engineer headquarters beyond Phase 0 in many contingency response cases.

(4.) Joint Publication 3-0, Joint Operations, 17 September 2006.

(5.) Army Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (ATTP) 3-34.23, Engineer Operations-Echelons Above Brigade Combat Team, 8 July 2010, para. 4-14.

(6.) Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, "The Joint Training System: A Primer for Senior Leaders," Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Guide 3501, 31 July 2008.

(7.) Julian Smith, "Deputy Chief of Staff, Engineering Mission-Essential Task List Review Back Brief," U.S. Army Pacific, Fort Shafter, Hawaii, 1 October 2010.

(8.) ATTP 3-34.23, paras. 3-4, 4-2.

(9.) Bob Kaiser, "Engineer Directorate Mission-Essential Tasks," U.S. Army Africa, Heidelberg, Germany, July 2010.

(10.) U.S. Army Maneuver Support Center, "Approved Engineer [Theater Engineer Command] Brigade Full Spectrum Operations Mission-Essential Task List AMRB 10-01 MANSCEN/ENGR-001 and -0022," Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, 2010.

(11.) ATTP 3-34.23, paras. 3-4, 4-11.

(12.) Michael Hoffman, "Officials Seek to Keep 'Operational Reserve,' " Army Times, 17 November 2010.

(13.) Field Manual 3-0, Operations, 27 February 2008.

(14.) U.S. Army Maneuver Support Center, 2010.

(15.) U.S. Department of Defense, "Quadrennial Defense Review Report," p. 53.

(16.) ATTP 3-34.23, para. A-2.

(17.) U.S. Department of Defense, p. 44.

(18.) Embassy of the United States, New Delhi-India, "U.S.- Indian Army Exercise Yudh Abhyas Underway," 19 October 2009, <>, accessed 31 May 2012.

(19.) U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command Pamphlet 525-3-1, The Army Operating Concept: 2016-2028, 19 August 2010, pp. 14, 21.

By Colonel Bruce A. Estok

Colonel Estok commands the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Seattle District after a year as a National Security Fellow at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government where the full version of this article was written. He served as engineer plans and operations chief for U.S. Army Pacific from 2008 to 2010 and as commander and district engineer for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Albuquerque District from 2006 to 2008. He holds a bachelor's degree in aeronautical engineering from the U.S. Military Academy and a master's degree in civil engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology
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Author:Estok, Bruce A.
Publication:Engineer: The Professional Bulletin for Army Engineers
Date:May 1, 2012
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