ORLANDO, Fla. - What happens when you put 73 engineers together into one room?
That's easy: They talk shop at the third annual Engineer Total Army Planning Exercise Conference hosted by the 412th Theater Engineer Command in Orlando, Florida, July 16 - 19.
It didn't matter their background or specialty, they're all engineers talking - not about building and blowing things up - but sharing their experiences and struggles, bringing a better understanding of each engineer element to one another.
This one conference has the potential to affect the entire engineer community by building new training opportunities for the more than 100,000 engineers across the civilian and military sectors with representatives coming from the Active Component, National Guard, U.S. Army Reserve, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Air Force.
Participants came to learn about their engineer counterparts, the challenges they face and how better they can integrate training and force management.
"I approach this under the presumption that none of us have the resources to do what we need to do anymore in this era of scarcity," said Col. Scott Chambers, logistics and engineering directorate, National Guard Bureau, U.S. Air Force. "Nobody can do the job alone. Everyone needs a partner."
Chambers felt making the connection to fellow engineers while deployed was easier.
"What I've noticed over my deployments is that it's easy to form those partnerships when you're downrange," said Chambers. "It's because you're in the moment. You're in the mission. You do what you need to do to get the mission done."
While Chambers found these relationships easier to build while deployed, he wasn't going to pass up this opportunity for growth.
"I've been mostly listening, but this is an opportunity to do some cross-leveling and cross-pollination," said Chambers, who felt ENTAPE helped him learn more about the Army engineer regiment.
"It's important to me that I learn more about the other engineers," said Chambers. "I've learned a little bit how Army engineers are organized and that we have some of the same training challenges, defining that reason for existing and how to get the training to serve the way you want to serve. We all struggle with that."
One of the topics ENTAPE covered was the National Guard's capabilities. Col. Gregg Hadlock, a senior National Guard advisor, discussed how its structure can combine the state and federal troops in a domestic operation when a catastrophe happens.
"The issue is all catastrophes are local," said Hadlock. "They go up to the state emergency level and federal aid comes down to the state level at the state's request providing support. The problem in the past was there might be two or sometimes three military organizations for the civilians to deal with and it complicated the efficiency of the effort."
The solution Hadlock explained came after Hurricane Katrina.
"After Hurricane Katrina, the federal response framework was reworked to improve the federal and state cooperation," said Hadlock. "Say you have an earthquake and you have a certain amount of damage. There's always that 'fog of war.' Same thing applies to a hurricane or a fire and your initial responders will be 98 percent of the time your local authorities, (police or fire departments) and they have enough capacity to deal with that in house, but when it gets to a catastrophe-level and the state is unable to deal with that alone, they have the capability to go to the Federal Emergency Management Association to ask for federal aid to help. The local authority is still in charge of the state, so that federal support has to funnel down through FEMA to make sure that people aren't sticking stuff in and hurting more than it helps."
Hadlock explained that's where the Dual Status Commander position comes into play.
"It's not a unity of command but a unity of effort. A position which puts one military person in contact with that state, usually appointed by the state's adjutant general or governor and can communicate with the operations center."
Hadlock explained the Army National Guard's unique capability to fill both the state and federal obligations together.
"All National Guardsmen are dual status. We have our state's responsibilities and our federal responsibilities."
National Guardsmen are able to continue the unity of effort and interagency coordination effort throughout between both the state and to the federal-level agencies.
Chambers, as a National Guardsmen, also felt that multi-agency coordination for domestic operations was a key topic of the conference.
"It's really important because domestic operations are a team sport," said Chambers. "It's meant to be by design multi-agency and if it looks like we're uncoordinated or isolated and not talking or coordinating with each other, it makes us all look bad and we're letting down the public."
"When we're doing domestic operations, the civilians don't care what uniform we're wearing," said Chambers. "They don't care what service we're in, if we're National Guard, Active component or Army Reserve. They want us to serve and serve properly. Disasters don't care about jurisdictions and neither does the public."
Another topic for ENTAPE led by Craig Hancock, a civilian emergency operations specialist, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Reachback Operations Center, Mobile, Alabama, was the array of tools available for today's engineer. One of the tools explained in particular was the Reachback Engineer Data Integration portal.
"RED-I is like Match.com," said Hancock. "You can search the site for troop projects available to find the perfect match for your unit."
"We're busier now than we were at the height of the war," said Hancock, who thinks the UROC and RED-I portal is becoming better known for its "Cloud-like" Internet storage and information database for engineers who need to track, manage and archive project files. RED-I also exchanges information with humanitarian, civilian and military services bridging the gap in communication drops to provide a common place to store and relay information so it's not lost or confined to one service or unit without visibility.
ENTAPE participants said they think the conference will to improve training opportunities and the engineer community.
"I find personal relationships are key to making sure you get that inter-agency cooperation," said Hadlock. "One of the primary things that comes out of this is you get to sit down and talk with people about their concerns, what they're going through and do some of that pre-coordination so when that time comes to work together, it becomes a little easier."
Command Sergeant Maj. Richard Castelveter, 412th TEC, also felt that the best aspect of the conference was meeting everyone.
"What I enjoy and get out of all these events is the interaction and networking with other Soldiers from other organizations," said Castelveter. "We're a family; working with your brothers and sisters here just makes a real difference. You can see why we're a special organization. That's the best part, looking eye-to-eye and understanding each other's background and what you bring to the table and how we can integrate all of our experiences."
Castelveter said he enjoyed the networking part, but also values the knowledge to take back to train the troops.
"We're building a strong engineer family from all organizations within the engineer community," said Castelveter. "This is going to enhance our training and broaden our experiences that we in the Army Reserve are not exposed to enough. We're going to work together and train together. That's the bottom line."