<b>PHILADELPHIA, Pa.</B> - In his first visit to the Philadelphia District, Lt. Gen. Robert Van Antwerp, Army Chief of Engineers and commanding general of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, stressed the importance of staying ahead of the curve with military and navigation missions.

He talked about the history of the Corps and highlighted decisions and projects that shaped the Corps mission today. In 1914, the Corps finished the first lock along the Panama Canal. Now, 96 years later, the Corps must help U.S. ports prepare for the post-Panamax ships that will be able to carry 12,500 containers and have a draft of 50-plus feet.

"What does that mean to the world's economy' Well, Canada has three ports that are 55 feet deep," he said. "We, the U.S., have two ports that can handle those ships today - just two ports that are over 50 feet. It means we have a lot of dredging to do. We're trying to get ready for that so we can still be a player on the world's economy."

The dredging message comes at an appropriate time for the District, as the Delaware River Main Stem and Channel Deepening project has just gotten underway. The project was authorized in 1992 and will deepen the Delaware River federal channel from 40 feet to 45 feet deep.

Gen. Van Antwerp attended the Philadelphia District's "Corps of Engineers Day" on June 15 and took the day to visit the Dredge McFarland and the Base Relocation and Closure project at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md.

During the visit to Aberdeen Proving Ground, he toured the Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C4ISR) BRAC project. It is a multiphase, $855 million project to relocate offices from Fort Monmouth, N.J. to Maryland by September 2011.

"This is one of the largest projects in BRAC and is definitely a showcase for things we want to do," said Gen. Van Antwerp in a pre-tour briefing.

The general talked about the Corps' constantly changing Overseas Contingency Operations support mission, saying that it will continue to be a priority for us to "go to the sounds of the gun." He said that the Corps is downsizing in Iraq and that we have decreased our workforce size from one headquarters and three districts with 1,000 people to one district and 350 people in the last year.

"We want to work ourselves out of a job in Iraq by Dec. 31, 2011," he said. "But I predict that we will be in Afghanistan for at least another 10 years. That's a challenging and important job in terms of water development and improving their irrigation. You would be surprised what can grow in a desert with just a little water."

As home to the Power Team, the Philadelphia District handles the contracts that provide electrical power to troops serving in Afghanistan and Iraq. The team averages approximately $300 million a year in contract awards, and about $2.4 billion since 2002. The team also contracts for power and communication needs for emergency response, like during Operation Unified Response following Haiti's devastating earthquake in January.

"Our flash-to-bang time with these kinds of contracts is much faster, and it's important to keep ahead of that," he said.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16