Support: March 23, 2005

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The current transformation of the U.S. Army involves some of the same sleight of hand seen during earlier periods of reform. Take, for example, the status of engineer units. Since  World War II, there have been two kinds of engineer units; the kind that operated at the front line (combat engineers) and those who built stuff further back (construction engineers.) In the 1970s, Congress got angry over what it perceived as a bad tooth (combat units) to tail (support units) ratio. Part of the army solution to that problem was simply to reclassify some non-combat units as combat units. This was done liberally with engineer construction battalions. There were already engineer groups (a World War II leftover) that often had both construction and combat engineer battalions. These groups were re-labeled as combat units. 

But nothing lasts forever. The current army reorganization is meant to put more support troops into combat brigades. That still leaves plenty of support units to be controlled by division headquarters, but not enough engineer battalions to form an engineer group. So many of the support units (engineer, chemical and Military Police) are now formed into  Maneuver Enhancement Brigades. By taking the engineers out of their Engineer Group, and putting them into an Maneuver Enhancement Brigades, they now are easier to sell as combat units. Sometimes, its all in a name.

But at the same time, the U.S. Army is shrinking and reorganizing their engineers. Basically, all engineer functions will be performed by engineer companies (either combat engineers, or several different types of construction engineers.) There will still be engineer battalions, sort of, in the form of an engineer battalion headquarters unit that can control two, three four or more engineer companies. Most combat engineers will operate as company size units attached to combat brigades. The engineers are now considered part of maneuver enhancement forces, which also includes chemical warfare and military police units. The way things look now, there will be fewer engineer companies after the current reorganization, than before. The engineers are also unhappy at not getting new combat engineer vehicles (CEVs), especially the much anticipated Grizzly (which was based on the M-1 tank chassis.) Instead, they are using vehicles like the D-9 bulldozer, equipped with an armor kit. The D-9 has to be broken down a bit, and loaded on a tank transporter, to get anywhere. The Grizzly can operate just like the M-1 tank it is based on. The army believes that equipping M-1 tanks with plows and other special gear makes it unnecessary to have CEVs, and that the huge D-9 dozer, does stuff a CEV cant do. Time will tell. But life will never be the same in the army engineers.

 


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