Whirlwind of operations centers on single joint engineer command
August 14, 2012
BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan -- Engineer operations in Afghanistan solidified under a single joint engineer command as the U.S. Army 411th Engineer Brigade, Joint Task Force Empire, assumed authority of engineer operations across three regional commands from the 22nd Naval Construction Regiment, Task Force Stethem, during a ceremony at Kandahar Airfield, July 31.
The historic event not only signaled the end of a six-month deployment of the Seabees of the 22nd NCR, the final such regiment to deploy in support of Operation Enduring Freedom; it also consolidated engineer operations under a single brigade command covering the entire Combined Joint Operations Area -- Afghanistan.
The consolidation is in conjunction with efforts to reduce American forces in Afghanistan as NATO continues to transition control of operations to Afghan National Security Forces. This is the first time since the beginning of OEF that engineer assets fell under a single command element. The progression from multiple regionally-based engineer elements has progressed to this historic point through the continued development of the ANSF as they look forward to taking full responsibility for the nation's security.
"The enduring impact of these operations tangibly enabled three regional commands across Afghanistan to execute their counter-insurgency missions and directly contributed to accomplishing strategic objectives," said U.S. Navy Capt. Kathryn A. Donovan, 22nd NCR commodore.
The 411th En. Bde., a Reserve brigade out of New Windsor, N.Y., began the daunting mission of command and control of engineer operations across the CJOA-A June 4, when it officially transferred authority of operations from the 18th En. Bde. It is currently the only engineer brigade of any U.S. service deployed to a combat environment. With the assumption of responsibilities from TF Stethem, the service members of JTF Empire became the first engineer brigade to maintain command and control across the entire country.
"As we assume these responsibilities, we intend to not only maintain their momentum, but seek to carry the torch a little bit farther," proclaimed Brig. Gen. David L. Weeks, 411th En. Bde. JTF Empire commanding general. "We intend to operate along three established lines of effort; combat effects, construction effects and the development and professionalization of ANSF engineer forces with a particular focus on Afghan National Army engineers. We are supporting their efforts as they take the lead moving steadily toward independent engineer operations."
"The mission is clear," continued Weeks, a resident of East Carroll Parish, La. "Joint Task Force Empire is committed to the prosperity of the people of Afghanistan and we will support [ISAF Joint Command's] efforts to ensure a strong, self-reliant Afghanistan for future generations."
The whirlwind of operations gripped the 411th engineers from day one and will not yield any time soon said Lt. Col. Matthew S. Warne, JTF Empire operations officer.
"Within our first 30 days, we started our [relief in place] process with the 22 NCR to take all the construction effects from the south, southwest and west," explained Warne, a resident of Valhalla, N.Y. "In the next three months, 5 of our battalions are rotating out. In addition, we have companies underneath them ripping out, plus a regional command is ripping out."
These numerous unit replacements while maintaining engineer operations is difficult enough according to Warne. Yet, this single command is not only maintaining these operations, but continuing to build for future operations, all during the height of the fighting season in theater.
"We've got a lot of work to do the next 2 and half months, so we're postured for our next campaign plan."
JTF Empire is responsible for all theater engineering support to IJC while working with regional commands, providing all theater tactical construction and assured mobility. It also continues its efforts for Afghan National Army engineer development, training and mentoring Afghan engineers who are assuming the responsibility to provide safety and security to their beloved country.
The schedule can be hectic. The task can be daunting. Though, with command and control over units throughout the entire CJOA-A, The Empire engineers are placed in a position to better utilize its assets.
"The challenge is synchronizing engineer effects throughout the CJOA-A," explained Warne. "That goes hand-in-hand with how the RCs do business and how the command relationships are a little bit different. We have the ability to influence how certain enablers or equipment sets are being utilized in theater. We have the ability to field the newest equipment, redistribute equipment and personnel based on the needs and overall view of the entire CJOA-A."
Engineer units from all U.S. services serve in operations for JTF Empire. The collaboration goes well beyond the individual units as Navy and Air Force personnel work at brigade and IJC levels to further the understanding and coordination with all services. This joint structure enhances JTF Empire's capabilities as it works with regional commands.
"We totally embedded ourselves into the RCs and showed them we are a customer service organization. We enable them to conduct their missions through combat support and service support."
Warne said he looks to the rest of the 411th's mission with optimism and confidence.
"I'm most proud of our professionalism and expertise of our units and the ability for our staff to orchestrate [operations] on a daily basis," said Warne. "That's a true credit to the engineer regiment on how engineers get things done. It really is a team effort. That gives us a sense of pride that every day we're taking care of the war fighter."
Warne said JTF Empire knows what lies ahead, but to remember that "what will be" is always based on "what was."
"We've had a very intense two months here," said Warne, considering the last few months. "We have to remember our fallen heroes and why our job is so important which help support the guys on the ground every day, working with the ANSF and coalition forces to make this a better place."