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Net zero for training through construction.

In an era of declining resources, numerous measures have been taken to reduce costs. These have led to a decrease in available training opportunities and dollars, with a corresponding decrease in readiness. The establishment of the U.S. Army Installation Management Command (IMCOM) fundamentally changed the way that U.S. Army installations were funded and managed, and it created a physical divide between engineers and the installations they support. Due to the demands of more than 12 years of conflict, duties such as gate guard and dining facility worker have been contracted, in part to free uniformed Soldiers for combat. These contracts, though necessary, are costly. In light of current fiscal realities, a process of regreening is taking place. Military police Soldiers are manning installation gates. Army cooks are preparing food in dining facilities. This article asks, "Why not do the same with our engineers, irrespective of component?"



Our Army is a brigade combat team (BCT)-centric Army. BCTs are our most important platform, serving as our "aircraft carriers." They conduct training such as company and battalion task force green weeks that culminate in a decisive-action training environment rotation at one of the combat training centers, which costs roughly $23 million per rotation. The Army has spent an enormous amount of money to attain a certain level of readiness; but at the end of that pathway, all we have is readiness. Senior Army leaders say that we should not pay for readiness we will not use. In the future, if you are not performing a specific mission (especially as Operation Enduring Freedom winds down), then what will the Army be paying you to do? Engineers must also attain a level of readiness, but the pathway to that readiness and how we will use it are markedly different. That is the thrust of this article.

Net Zero for Training

When one thinks of net zero, the first images that arise are green roofs, motion-sensitive light switches, rainwater reuse, and photovoltaic devices. Using the BCT training example above, can we not apply a net zero approach to engineer training that would provide readiness and a material cost savings to the U.S. government for operations and maintenance; sustainment, restoration, and modernization; minor construction; and even civil works projects? Perhaps we could call this Net Zero for Training.


If we assume that pay and allowances are set costs and examine a project that would normally cost $1 million, it would be reasonable to assume that direct and indirect labor would account for more than 70 percent of that cost, with the remainder attributed to materials. If an Army construction unit were able to accomplish that project, the results would include--

* Theoretical savings of $700,000 (less travel and life support costs).

* Increased readiness for the construction unit.

* Cost neutrality (or savings) in unit training costs.

* Satisfaction on the installation served.

This approach would always raise questions about what the training actually accomplished, how much the training increased readiness, and how much it saved the government.

Two Tribes

Within the Engineer Regiment, there exist two separate tribes that frequently spin in vastly separate orbits: the modified table of organization and equipment unit orbit (which centers around training, missions, and deployments) and the facilities engineering orbit (which centers around directorates of public works [DPWs] and the civil works missions of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers [USACE], where the languages spoken include money, contracting, and legal oversight). Net Zero for Training could serve as a bridge between these two tribes. It could form the basis of a mutually beneficial program to take the demand signals of the facilities engineering community and turn them into opportunities to improve the training and readiness of components on the green-suit side of the Engineer Regiment. My last article ("One Regiment: Breaking Down the Stovepipes," Engineer)1 spoke to the potential of viewing the U.S. Army Installation Command as the Army's seventh Army service component command, meaning that its demand signals could be filled by the U.S. Army Forces Command, National Guard Bureau, and U.S. Army Reserve Command, based on the training objectives of commanders. Could this be applicable across the entire spectrum of engineer requirements, leading to training and readiness opportunities and cost savings?

Current Practice

No doubt there are units from all components that interact with their local DPW. This will always be the bread and butter of company commanders and other leaders in the construction world. The challenges in making such opportunities happen are usually local in nature. Often, the problems relate to installation construction always taking second place to other missions, such as deployments, combat training center rotations, and other requirements. The sole job of an Air Force installation engineering unit is to provide support to the installation. Why does the Army see things so very differently? One factor may be the reluctance of a DPW to use troop labor due to perceived threats to the civilian or contractor work force. The money for critical programs has long been flatlined, but what will happen when those funds take a precipitous nosedive? During the past 12 years of war, engineers have consistently practiced the mantra of "no engineers in reserve" while deployed, regularly performing construction and maintenance projects efficiently. However, what happens when the engineers are back at their stateside installation is vastly different. Shouldn't it be the same for stateside and overseas jobs?

"Hidden" Military Construction

A new enhanced-performance round was discussed at a recent council-of-colonels meeting. This new service grade ammunition offers many environmental benefits, but it also has a major implication. The ricochet angle created by the impact of the round on a target is much larger than that of current ammunition, creating a safety concern. The challenge is that there is now an unforeseen military construction requirement to modify the protective berms at ranges to make them safe. This would be a great opportunity for a unit to get training in design and horizontal construction at low or even no cost to the government. In an era of declining resources, we need to start looking within and see the training opportunities that such challenges create, rather than immediately hitting our instinctive contractor button.

The Way Ahead

What is needed is a much larger approach to the articulation of requirements (via demand signals) and the programming of funds to complete the projects that emanate from those requirements. The following are thoughts for further consideration:


* Explore component level discussions with IMCOM about the risks of budget cuts and how comprehensive risk management strategies can be developed for operations and management (for demand work orders and scheduled maintenance); for sustainment, restoration, and modernization; and for minor construction using and programming contributions by the uniformed side of the Engineer Regiment.

* Explore the potential of green-suit participation in civil works and military construction projects. This doesn't suggest that an Army unit would construct the next Hoover Dam. But units could participate in major civil works projects by simply clearing and grubbing as site preparation (something that could be accomplished by sapper units with chain saws), taking part in an existing project such as routine maintenance of USACE-owned levees, or performing emergency hazard mitigation during floods. A proof of principle is in the planning stages at the Folsom Dam in California, where there is potential for Army units to reestablish an access roadway and demolish an existing temporary access bridge as part of a much larger project.

* Continue the integration process of broadening and increasing connectivity between the tribes of the Engineer Regiment. Perhaps some IMCOM or USACE projects might interest the green-suit side of the Regiment if they can lead to material cost savings for the government. The USACE technical-development program is just one point of light in this vein that allows engineer officers to train at a USACE district and then receive a guaranteed seat at the Engineer Captains Career Course. How often do we allow branch-qualified officers to intern with USACE or a garrison DPW before taking their next critical career step?

* The authoritative regulation, Army Regulation 415-32, Engineer Troop Unit Construction in Connection With Training Activities,2 was last revised on 15 April 1998. The changes the Army has experienced in that time should feed a new revision that creates pathways rather than barriers to realizing this concept.

* The biggest take away must be that the potential exists for a change in mind-set for Net Zero for Training to take place. If this mind-set can be adopted, it will assure a higher level of readiness for the Engineer Regiment and will ensure its indispensability to our Army and our Nation at a time when they need us most.


This article is meant to stir discussion about how to create low- to no-cost training opportunities under the tight budgets of the future. It is by no means all-inclusive. It is apparent that the total Engineer Regiment will need to bridge the gaps in funding and thinking to create conditions for building readiness and solving larger infrastructural challenges. Above all, we must not stop thinking and discussing due to retrenchment into our basic tribes. It will be a combination of relationships, proximity, and good engineer economical methods that will carry us through the coming era of declining resources. Net Zero for Training may be one way to help us get there. As always, the author welcomes vociferous debate and can be reached at <>.


(1.) Adam S. Roth, "One Regiment: Breaking Down the Stovepipes," Engineer, Volume 43, May-August 2013, pp. 6-8.

(2.) Army Regulation 415-32, Engineer Troop Unit Construction in Connection With Training Activities, 15 April 1998.

Colonel Roth serves as the Chief of Staff (Reserve Affairs) at the Office of the Chief of Engineers at the Pentagon. He is a resident graduate of the U.S. Army War College and previously served as the Deputy Assistant Commandant (Army Reserve) at the U.S. Army Engineer School. He is a graduate of the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College and holds a master's degree in mechanical engineering from Boston University.

By Colonel Adam S. Roth
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Author:Roth, Adam S.
Publication:Engineer: The Professional Bulletin for Army Engineers
Date:Jan 1, 2014
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