By Joan Kibler, USACEJuly 11, 2011
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan " In a time-honored military tradition for a relatively new U.S. Army Corps of Engineers district, the colors and command transferred from Army Col. Anthony C. Funkhouser to Air Force Col. Benjamin Wham II. The Afghanistan Engineer District-South held its change of command ceremony July 8 here.
Wham took command of a district managing a design and construction program totaling more than $2 billion that supports the NATO International Security Assistance Force in creating the conditions that lead to improved security, governance and commerce within Afghanistan.
In accepting command, Wham said he would continue the focus on serving the district’s myriad customers, including the Afghan government agencies, battle space owners and coalition partners.
“This is the best opportunity I could hope for,” Wham said. “When it showed up on my radar screen, I was delighted to have the opportunity to lead an engineer district.” He expressed his appreciation to the district’s people for their welcome.
Wham’s previous assignment was as Commander, 628th Mission Support Group, 628th Air Base Wing, Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina. In this position, he led more than 2,000 military and civilian personnel organized into six squadrons in support of the eight major mission partners and 53 different tenants and supported units at Joint Base Charleston.
He has served in a variety of command and staff assignments, including overseas duty at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar; Ali Air Base, Iraq; Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii; Osan Air Base, Korea; and Torrejon Air Base, Spain; and stateside assignments at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina; Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho; the Pentagon; Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado; and Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.
In introducing Wham as the new district commander, Brig. Gen. Mark W. Yenter said that “he has all the credentials one would expect from a professional engineer. He has a wide variety of assignments around the world including multiple command and senior staff positions and a combat tour in Iraq.”
Yenter, who presided over the change of command, is commander of the Corps of Engineers Transatlantic Division-Forward, based in Kabul, the parent command of AED-South.
“Having an Air Force colonel in charge of a USACE district is not new. We’ve had Air Force colonels command districts in Iraq with magnificent results. This is a coveted combat command in USACE, and USACE has great confidence in your experience,” Yenter said to Wham.
“General George Washington said that every good engineer possesses two traits: they must have energy and they must execute their task with precision. I am certain that you possess these traits and will apply them every day as we continue to move forward and compel change on the enemy.”
Yenter, who also served in Afghanistan in 2002, drew comparisons between the Corps of Engineers’ mission then and now.
“The Corps of Engineers arrived in Afghanistan in September 2002 to begin planning facilities for the Afghan National Army,” he said. “Then, we were repairing Soviet-era facilities for a company of ANA soldiers graduating about every six weeks. The approach wasn’t a viable way to provide facilities for the new army. The Corps worked with (Maj.) Gen. (Karl) Eikenberry (then serving as chief of the Office of Military Cooperation-Afghanistan) to make a case for building new facilities for an emerging ANA.”
From the first ANA bases built at Pol-e-Charki and Darulaman near Kabul and a few hundred million in funding, the Corps of Engineers program in Afghanistan has increased to about $5 billion today, managed by two districts " AED-South and AED-North (in Kabul), he said.
“Our mission has expanded to meet the security infrastructure, stability and sustainment needs of ISAF and the government of Afghanistan,” Yenter said. “Today, we are providing infrastructure development including power, water and transportation as the Defense Department lead to support State Department efforts to develop Afghanistan. We will continue to construct permanent bases for Afghan security forces.
“A $5 billion program is a large program, but it means little if you don’t deliver. For engineers, our credibility is not based on what we say but on what we do,” Yenter said. “AED-South is the organization that delivers.
“You are supporting the main effort in Afghanistan, which is the main effort of our nation. You are operating on our FOBs (forward operating bases) and in our most remote sites in the mountains and along the border. You are overseeing the construction in Zabul, the toughest place to build anything in all of Afghanistan. You are completing military construction here at KAF, a major logistics hub of the effort. You provided power in Kandahar City, which had an immediate COIN (counterinsurgency) effect. If you want it done aggressively and done right, turn to the Corps of Engineers.”
Yenter thanked Funkhouser for his leadership and for reaching out to the supported commanders and helping them to “translate intent and vision into something tangible.
“You’ve been undaunted by the huge mission laid before you,” Yenter said to him. “Thank you for setting the example. Thank you for carrying out the campaign goals of protecting the Afghan people and setting the conditions for transition to Afghan-led security.”
In his remarks, Funkhouser focused on the team effort for accomplishing the work.
“This is an opportunity for me to thank my team and all our battle space owners for letting the district be part of your teams and for the support you have provided us to accomplish our mission in support of yours.
“The neat thing about this command is its diversity and unique mission that allowed us to affect much of this country. Our joint team is eclectic with Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Civilians and contractors. We work for USFOR-A (U.S. Forces-Afghanistan) but supported construction efforts in Regional Commands South, Southwest and West and a few other interagency organizations. We worked with each of the countries of the coalition, all services, the mighty 10th Mountain Division and the I and II MEF (Marine Expeditionary Force).
“We coordinated and synchronized our work with ISAF, IJC (ISAF Joint Command), the GIRoA (Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan) ministries, the ANSF (Afghan National Security Forces), local Afghan businessmen, USAID (U.S. Agency for International Development), multiple NGOs (nongovernment organizations), contractors and so many others. We have done all we could to support the operational mission to clear, hold and build the infrastructure of this country in support of the battle space owners.
“I am really proud of our team and the support they provided. To my fellow commanders, thanks for your support in moving and securing our personnel and projects…I consider myself lucky to have stood with some great commanders.
“I am certain Col. Wham will take this team to the next level. I wish you all Godspeed in your mission in the year to come.”
Funkhouser’s next assignment is Division Chief, Joint Capabilities Division, J8, Joint Staff, the Pentagon.
AED-South is based at Kandahar Airfield with area and resident offices throughout southern Afghanistan. More than 400 military, civilian and contractor personnel carry out the Corps of Engineers mission in ISAF Regional Commands South, Southwest and West.