DARIEN, Ill. - The Army Reserve has the only two Theater Engineer Commands (TECs) across the entire Department of Defense, and they're currently undergoing a major change.
When Army engineers talk about transformation, it's not a mere game of musical chairs. This change will greatly enhance their headquarters to deploy and perform their wartime functions. Their ability to shape and control the engineering battlefield will depend on how well they can execute this concept.
But in order to understand what this redesign means, it's important to first understand who these TECs are and what they already provide the Army.
WHAT THE HECK IS A TEC?
The two Theater Engineer Commands are the 416th TEC, headquartered in Darien, Illinois, and the 412th TEC, in Vicksburg, Mississippi. Each TEC is commanded by a major general, with two deputy-commanding generals and a staff of roughly 300 personnel, which includes officers, noncommissioned officers and Army civilians. The 416th TEC commands units in 27 different continental states west of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. The 412th TEC commands engineer and other units in the remaining states.
The TECs have distinct responsibilities during their peacetime and wartime missions.
During their peacetime missions, also known as Phase Zero, the TECs are responsible for training more than 300 units from six brigades, including 20,000 Army Reserve engineers and 6,000 other Soldiers from various job specialties. Their training and projects span across the U.S. both on military installations and on public lands at the request of civil authorities. They also travel the globe to perform peacetime missions in other nations.
"Our subordinate elements are (available) to be assigned anywhere in the world where they are needed," said Maj. Gen. Lewis Irwin, commanding general of the 416th TEC.
This means multinational training events and the construction of schools, medical centers, public buildings, roadways, bridges and more. Army Reserve engineers have performed peacetime projects in El Salvador, Dominican Republic, Panama, Canada, Korea and other countries.
Sometimes, both TECs collaborate on the same projects, sending units to work together either at the same time or on a rotational basis.
"We cross utilize Soldiers from each other ... to accomplish these missions within our own areas of responsibility," said Maj. Gen. Tracy Thompson, commanding general of the 412th TEC.
These missions serve two purposes. They train units and Soldiers while supporting communities at home and abroad. Yet, the TECs engineering impact reaches beyond these scopes.
During wartime, the TEC serves as the master engineering planner to a combatant commander. They report to either a three-star or four-star general at the Corps or Army levels, respectively. They are the military equivalent to a general engineering contractor, but with a huge area of responsibility.
A deployed TEC can function either as a Joint Engineer Operations Command or embed into a staff already in place. It operates at a level known as "echelons above brigade." That means they provide the "big picture" engineering plans and vision for their assigned theater supporting the combatant commander.
A "theater" is a term used for both combat and noncombat environments, spanning across multiple countries. The Department of Defense has divided the world into six major theaters. Each TEC has a primary responsibility to support three of those.
Once deployed, a TEC executes command authority over engineer brigades and their engineering missions in an assigned theater. Other command organizations have the ability to command engineer units, but the TEC is the only organization specifically designed for this function. They are the experts in this field. They also have authority to control engineers units from the Navy, Marines and Air Force in a joint forces environment depending on mission, assets and commander's intent.
"Per joint doctrine, the TEC is the only organization or command that is designated to command and control of other services' engineers," said Maj. Justin Kilpatrick, future plans officer for the 416th TEC.
In order to perform the total spectrum of their mission, the TEC must focus on three major engineering functions at the headquarters level.
THE TEC'S CORE FUNCTIONS
The TEC's three main areas of expertise are: Assured mobility, general engineering and geospatial engineering.
Assured mobility - The TECs direct the construction and combat engineer missions at the strategic level. Military forces cannot accomplish any mission without the freedom of movement and maneuver across a battle space. Engineers make this movement possible by building airports, seaports, roads, rails, pipelines and bridges. Combat engineers can also enable mobility and counter mobility by clearing mines, blowing obstacles out of the way, or impeding enemy movement.
"We'll actually help define where (forward operating bases) go, where the roads go, where the bridging needs to be. We develop the theater so that combatant commander can move through the battle space to accomplish their goals, objectives and the vision of the mission; we are the master planners for that commander in his or her battle space," said Col. Scott Shrader, 416th TEC director of Army Reserve Engineer - Integration.
General engineering - This includes everything engineers envision, design, prepare and build. From a strategic standpoint, the TECs are responsible for all infrastructure plans within a theater, from the sea ports to the front lines of combat.
"When we see things, we see them at the 25,000-foot level. We see an open field and then develop it, essentially," said Lt. Col. Scott Nos, the deputy mobilization officer for the 416th TEC.
The idea of "front lines" in modern conflicts has changed drastically from the traditional methods of war that existed even decades ago. This increases the complexity of a TEC's mission in theater.
"Today's combat environments are very asymmetrical. There are no front lines or rear area. Our Soldiers, all of them are all in the fight, from the designers to the combat engineers," said Shrader.
This pushes the TECs to become involved in a conflict from the earliest stages of a conflict (known as Phase One, when infrastructure is first built), and their mission can last all the way to the end (known as Phase Five, when land is transitioned back to the nation's authorities).
Geospatial engineering - Engineers must serve as "experts of terrain." This means they accumulate and combine data on the operational environment in a digital form. It's not just a matter of recreating a map of the land. Geospatial engineering creates a digital package of information from multiple sources that commanders use to strategize engineer-centric missions.
Both of the TECs' commanding generals agree that Army Reserve engineer Soldiers are prepared to meet these demands, despite the intensive knowledge and technical requirements.
"As far as honing their professional skills, they're doing that Monday through Friday every week, and that is a great value added," said Thompson.
Both TECs have had officers and leaders with multiple engineer degrees who have done this type of work throughout their civilian and professional careers. One colonel in particular owns his own engineering advisor firm. One brigadier general is a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Vanderbilt University. A former TEC commanding general is a chief of technical services at the Buffalo District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. This list could go on.
THE DESIGN UNDERWAY
In order to fulfill these functions, the TECs plan on adding two specialized staff elements: the General Engineer Operations Cells (GENOC) and the Geospatial Planning Cell. Other staff sections will be reorganized as a result.
The intent of this transition is to achieve a "net zero" change. This means perform more of their required specialties without adding a single Soldier to their staff structure.
"We all must be good stewards of our nation's resources, and the TEC redesign effort is all about fulfilling the Army and Joint Force requirements with the right capabilities, while ensuring we don't waste any increasingly scarce resources," said Irwin.
The GENOC would form a section of 34 Soldiers supervised by a colonel. It provides a robust, deployable "plug and play" technical engineer capability to each TEC. The geospatial cell consists of seven Soldiers, added to the G2 Intelligence section within each TEC.
"With the redesigned TEC, we will be better organized to bring engineering expertise to the fight in the fastest possible time frame," said Col. Loren Zweig, one of the main 416th TEC officers involved in the redesign process.
Until now, each TEC has had two Deployable Command Posts (DCPs), totaling of 120 Soldiers. These positions will be transformed into a single DCP, staffed by roughly 50 Soldiers per TEC.
The DCP can deploy by itself or deploy with the whole deployable headquarters, known as the TEC Main, depending on the scope of the mission. However, it's important to remember that if a TEC were to deploy, its peacetime responsibilities would still continue.
"The TEC Main in whole could deploy (but) there is a separate structure assigned to the TEC known as the Mission Support Element (MSE). It would be commanded by a one-star general, and would assume command and control of the TECs' subordinate units in the U.S.," said Shrader.
The TEC's MSE would conduct business as usual: Training units and coordinating peacetime construction missions around the world.
That's why, right now, the 416th TEC is planning a multi-phase staff exercise (STAFFEX), spread across 3 years. The STAFFEX will exercise the TEC's ability to fulfill two major, separate missions at once: Peacetime and wartime. Each TEC element will implement its standard operating procedures (SOPs). The first phase of STAFFEX will begin this June, with two more iterations the following years.
"We have to be able to mobilize and deploy as soon as the need for our unique capabilities arises," said Irwin. "We may mobilize and deploy as an entire TEC, as a Deployable Command Post, as separate staff sub-elements, such as the General Engineering Operations Center, or as individual staff augmentees. So it's critical that we prepare for all of these potential, expeditionary roles."
Regardless of whether the world needs engineers during times of peace or conflict, the 412th and 416th TECs are prepared to meet those strategic needs and place the right engineers in the right place, no matter how far that place might be from home.