April 15, 2010

Combat Engineering: A View from the Frontline

Author: Defence IQ
Posted: 03/25/2010 4:21:34 PM EDT

Captain Jonathan Pan, Economic Development Officer, Task Force Stryker, US Army, answers a few questions on combat engineering.

Describe your frontline experience. What have you learned about combat engineering?

The bulk of Combat Engineers are focused on Route Clearance. Especially in an American Brigade Combat Team, there is not enough expertise on civil engineering. The US Army is trying to alleviate this situation by putting a Forward Engineer Support Team-Advance inside every BCT. The Forward Engineer Support Teams–Advance (FEST-A) is normally a five to eight person team which consists of a military team leader, geographic information system specialist, and civil, mechanical and electrical engineers. It can be augmented with structural, environmental and other engineering skills depending on the mission. This small, advance engineering team deploys quickly and augments the engineer staff of other organizations from the combatant commander down to the BCT level. It conducts initial critical infrastructure assessments to include sewer, water, environmental, academics and trash assessments, technical engineering and design assistance, limited contracting support, and real estate acquisition support to include reach-back capabilities. The timeline for that having FEST-As in each BCT remains to be seen.

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What is the role of Combat Engineers in Afghanistan?

Engineers in Afghanistan basically clear routes and culverts. It is a very dangerous mission and many junior leaders feel like they are just driving around to hit IEDs so that other forces and the local population don’t.

How is the role of Combat Engineers changing?

There is approximately $1.2B available in the Commander’s Emergency Response Program. A large portion of that money requires engineering designs and quality assurance and quality control. This is necessary not only for major infrastructure projects but for small population-centric projects.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

First I want to mention that I’m an Infantry officer, not an Engineer. The reason why I have been involved in this is the very fact that our Engineers have not had the capability to affect the local population because they have been concentrating on Route Clearance. As the Economic Development Officer, my primary customer is the Afghan population. Therefore, I’ve been involved in many projects that ultimately require engineers. I had to leverage all the engineer support that I could get, but the only responsive one so far has been the United States Army Corps of Engineers.

Interview by Jessica Livingston

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