High-tech tools link combat forces to USACE experts

FEST-M public affairs
Published Dec. 18, 2009

From real world combat operations to military contingency exercises, the high-tech communications capabilities of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Field Force Engineering (FFE) program are in increasing demand.

For ten days in August, about 75 FFE team members brought their unique technology and skills to South Korea to participate in the annual Ulchi Freedom Guardian (UFG), a joint military exercise between the Republic of Korea and the United States. The scope of the computer-simulated drill is immense, spanning the entire South Korean peninsula, and is designed to test the abilities of both military forces to respond to a variety of combat contingencies.

In recent years FFE teams have been integrated into the scenarios to bridge engineering capability gaps in fighting forces.

"Our FFE teams have the capability to leverage technology the regular Army doesn’t have," said Mitch Glenn, Pacific Ocean Division plans team leader.

"For example, a unit needs to cross a damaged bridge. By using a video camera hooked up to a Tele-Engineering Communications Deployable kit (TEC-D), the FFE can link the unit with the right USACE engineer ‘live’ on a secure network. They can show all the damage and together come up with the quickest and safest course of action, whether that’s repairing the bridge or using our satellite and geospatial engineering capabilities to assess alternate routes of travel."

The TEC-D kit is a small portable unit that can be brought into the heart of operations. Through this secure and non-secure data and video reachback communication capacity, teams are able to leverage vast capabilities and technologies not found in our Soldier ranks -- even from the most remote locations.

"In combat ops, it provides our troops with direct access to the right experts with the right technology required to work through problems in real time," said Glenn. "It’s like having thousands and thousands of experts, both in the Corps of Engineers and contract, right at your fingertips when you need them—but without putting them in harm’s way."

Glenn says through participation in exercises such as UFG and real world combat operations, warfighters now see how the FFE team’s expertise and reach back capabilities improve combat effectiveness.

"More and more military units are writing FFEs into their combat operation plans," said Glenn. "When we first introduced the FFE capabilities to ROK [Republic of Korea], they saw how it allowed their engineers during a combat situation to communicate without having to send runners. When radios go down, we provide the secure satellite linkup, ensuring that operations continue. They’ve experienced the advantage we bring—they want our expertise and they need our communication capabilities. No other organization can give that to our fighting forces and allies."

As an expeditionary force—meaning fully deployable on short notice—FFE teams can be on site or in-theater within hours or days of mobilization, depending on the location and nature of the mission. These teams are structured to meet a variety of combat and disaster relief needs and provide an unprecedented opportunity for personal and professional growth for a variety of specialists from engineers and lawyers to contract managers and intelligence officers.

"Working as part of an FFE team exposes members to a wide variety of agencies," said Glenn. "If you work in a project office, it’s a good bet you would never interact directly with organizations or agencies such as our combat forces, international liaisons and businesses, or the Department of Homeland Security. With an FFE team, this is just part of our daily operations. The exposure and experience is incredible."

The FFE program is growing to meet the need with teams in development across the nation.

"Because we do things no one else can do, we are in demand," said Glenn. "It’s not always easy what we do, and the conditions can be pretty remote and rough, but the experiences are priceless."