By Capt. Spencer GarrisonFebruary 8, 2013
BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan - The 555th Engineer Brigade completed its transfer of authority ceremony with the 411th Eng. Bde. here at Bagram Air Field, Feb. 3, officially assuming command of the Theater Joint Engineer Brigade in Afghanistan.
With the arrival of the 555th En. Bde. Headquarters and Headquarters Company, totaling over 120 soldiers, U.S. engineer forces across the country have transitioned from Joint Task Force Empire to become Joint Task Force Triple Nickel and, under new leadership, will continue their theater-wide mission in support of the International Security Assistance Force.
"Very few units can claim an operational environment that spans the entire country," noted Col. Nicholas Katers, commander of JTF Triple Nickel, in his remarks during the ceremony.
U.S. military engineer operations in the country focus principally on training of the Afghan National Army engineer force, providing troop construction for coalition forces, and route clearance- finding and eliminating improvised explosive devices in order to provide safe passage along roadways for coalition forces and Afghan civilians.
"Our predecessors in JTF Empire have moved the ball a long way towards our common goal," Katers said of the multifaceted mission.
Over 200 soldiers and leaders attended the TOA ceremony, including the command teams and headquarters companies of both the 555th and 411th Eng. Bdes., as well as the command teams of the subordinate engineer battalions from separate regions of the country.
After the invocation and rendering of salutes for the American and Afghan national anthems, the ceremony proceeded with remarks by Maj. Gen. William Mayville Jr., commander, Regional Command-East.
"We're bending steel out here," Mayville said of ISAF's transition to Afghan-led security operations.
"We take a deliberate half-step back every time the Afghans step forward," he added.
With this in mind, the engineer brigade's leadership, both incoming and outgoing, consider ANA engineer development as their top priority; the Brigade currently partners with more than 2,300 Afghan engineer soldiers across 34 different units, according to JTF Triple Nickel's ANA Development Officer Capt. Adam Storck.
In line with the increased focus on Afghans in the lead, seven of the partnered Afghan engineer units are now fully independent (as are two non-partnered ANA units), 13 are considered effective with advisers, and nine are considered effective with partners, according to Storck.
Katers added that, "almost all the engineer route clearance companies and sapper companies that exist within the ANA brigades will be independent by the end of March."
In addition to ANA development, another key ongoing mission for the Triple Nickel is route clearance. According to mission records, during the nine-month period under JTF Empire leadership, regular coalition patrols along major roadways led to more than 900 IEDs found and cleared before they could be used against coalition and Afghan forces or civilians.
A third key engineer focus in Afghanistan is construction and deconstruction projects, particularly those related to base closures, transfers, and the overall drawdown of ISAF forces as Afghan forces assume the security lead.
"We accept the challenge today brings," Katers stated, concluding his remarks.
"It is time to roll up our sleeves and get to work."