Nation Building in Mesopotamia: U.S. Military Engineers in Iraq

By Hawkins, Steven R.; Wells, Gordon M. | Army, February 2005 | Go to article overview

Nation Building in Mesopotamia: U.S. Military Engineers in Iraq


Hawkins, Steven R., Wells, Gordon M., Army


The motto of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is "Essayons," which is French for "Let us try." At every turn during Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, Essayons has epitomized the response of U.S. military engineers to the monumental challenges that seem to arise every day. From planning the reconstruction of Iraq's national infrastructure to working with Iraqi doctors to get power to hospitals in downtown Baghdad, the response of U.S. military engineers has consistently been "Let us try." This is just one snapshot of a small group of military engineers who served in Kuwait and Iraq from January to July 2003 as part of a larger military and civilian team charged with the reconstitution of an entire nation.

On January 24, 2003, National security Presidential Directive 24 established the Post-War Planning Office to synchronize the efforts of multiple federal agencies to plan and execute post-hostilities operations in the event of war with Iraq. This organization, known as the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), was initially formed and led by Lt. Gen. Jay Garner, U.S. Army retired. Ambassador L. Paul Bremer succeeded him in May 2003.

Knowing that the military would play a key role in the reconstitution of post-war Iraq, the Joint Chiefs of Staff directed the establishment of a military organization, Joint Task Force IV (JTF-IV). This unit's mission was to work with the commander of Central Command (CENTCOM) to conduct the military's planning efforts for the post-hostilities phase of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Because JTF-IV would eventually include other members of the coalition, it was subsequently named Combined Joint Task Force IV or CJTF-IV.

I was the commander of CJTF-IV. Shortly after I reported to CENTCOM Headquarters in Tampa, Fla., I noted that the manning document for CJTF-IV was missing an engineer staff section, an element that would be essential in planning the reconstruction of Iraq's infrastructure. I immediately enlisted the aid of Col. Gordon Wells, the commander of the Corps of Engineers' Fort Worth District.

Col. Wells was to form a 12-person forward engineer support team (FEST) of military and civilian engineers from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and deploy them to Camp Doha, Kuwait, where they would link up with the rest of CJTF-IV.

This FEST team would form the core of the CJTF-IV Engineer (C7) staff section. Col. Wells was selected for this task because the Fort Worth District had been supporting U.S. forces in Afghanistan for well over nine months with deployed FEST teams collocated with the U.S. Army's XVIIIth Airborne Corps at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan. Two individuals who had previously served in Afghanistan on Fort Worth FEST teams, Maj. Brad Westergren and Mark Valentino, volunteered to deploy to Kuwait to help build the CJTF-IV engineer team.

The concept behind Corps of Engineers FEST teams is to deploy a relatively small, multidisciplined team of engineers and related professionals (for example, computer aided design and drafting and geospatial information system personnel) capable of conducting in-theater assessments and obtaining more complex engineering solutions through the use of reach back to the 38,000 employees of the Corps worldwide. In addition to having a highly skilled and motivated team of professionals on the ground in support of deployed U.S. forces, each FEST team deploys with a sophisticated equipment package that includes hardened notebook computers, satellite phones and other fly-away design tools. The team's computers are designed to be networked internally, as well as connected to Corps offices worldwide through a tele-engineering kit that provides secure worldwide satellite communications. The most powerful aspect of the tele-engineering kit is that it allows for secure video-teleconferencing, a capability used extensively throughout Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.

By mid-February, the Fort Worth FEST team, composed of volunteers from across the Corps of Engineers, had linked up with the rest of CJTF-IV at Camp Doha, Kuwait, where they went to work with the rest of the staff in writing various plans for the reconstitution of Iraq. …

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