A Salute for Having Served
BY PATRICK INGRAHAM
On Veterans Day, as we honor those who have served in the armed forces and protected the rights and liberties of United States citizens, the time and hard work that servicemen and women put in each day may go underappreciated. The military may conjure up images of battles, weapons, and combat, but behind every branch of the military are engineers who make the victories possible.
Laying the Groundwork
Over the centuries, engineering has been an integral part of providing support to military forces. The Romans were the first known civilization to have a dedicated engineering corps—the architecti—within their army. Siege warfare was the main method of warfare in ancient times, and many ancient records show how engineers in places like the Roman empire and China were tasked with constructing forts, structures, and siege weapons like catapults and battering rams.
Fast forward to the American Revolution: Col. Rufus Putnum of Massachusetts (who was vital in assisting Col. Richard Gridley, Washington’s first chief engineer, in building fortifications at the Battle of Bunker Hill) submitted in September 1776 to General Washington and the Continental Congress the first plan to establish a corps of engineers as a permanent and distinct branch of the Army with its own regulations.
Although Putnam’s plan was ultimately rejected, it laid the groundwork for the creation of the Army Corps of Engineers. On March 16, 1802, President Thomas Jefferson signed the Military Peace Establishment Act to “organize and establish a Corps of Engineers...that the said Corps... shall be stationed at West Point in the State of New York and shall constitute a military academy.”
Civil engineers were employed by what was previously called the Navy Department as early as 1827. The Naval Facilities Engineering Command, established as the Bureau of Yards and Docks in August 1842, is the oldest of the Navy’s system commands.
The Marine Corps activated its first engineering battalion (officially the 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion) in 1940, before participating in several vital campaigns in the Pacific theater during World War II.
Civil engineers in the Air Force—originally part of the Army Corps—have their roots in the inception of flight in the United States, as the Wright brothers sold the first military airplane to the US Army Signal Corps in 1909. Engineers related to aviation were under the Army’s direction until the establishment of the Air Force in 1947, and the Army Corps of Engineers provided (and still does provide) support to the Air Force; however, the Air Force established its own civil engineering command, the Air Force Civil Engineer Support Agency, in the 1960s.
While recognizing the importance of the history of engineering behind each branch of the military, much has changed for modern warfare and for the role of the engineer in each branch over the decades. As we honor our veterans, it’s important that we recognize the hard work and dedication of so many military PEs both as active duty military personnel and as private civilians.
As an officer in the Navy Civil Engineer Corps, Commander Jeff Lengkeek, P.E., served in shore installation management and expeditionary assignments in the US and around the world. His Navy career has taken him from California and Virginia to Diego Garcia, an atoll in the central Indian Ocean; Rota, Spain; and Djibouti, on the Horn of Africa.
Lengkeek grew up in a Navy family and after graduating from Penn State with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering, he joined the Navy as part of the Civil Engineer Corps. Having spent more than 22 years in engineering, facilities, and expeditionary assignments around the world, Lengkeek now spent as the executive officer of Naval Facilities Engineering Command Mid-Atlantic.
Lengkeek says his qualifications and PE license have allowed him to take part in a number of different projects and posts during his time in the Navy. Some of his first assignments included administering large construction and renovation contracts at field offices on Navy installations including construction of new piers; housing communities; and administrative, command, and headquarters buildings.
During his time serving in the Navy Public Works Department, Lengkeek provided full lifecycle facility management support to Navy installations and, in the Navy Construction Battalions (Seabees), he played a part in providing expeditionary bases and contingency construction to US forces deployed around the world.
In his more senior assignments—including a period as commanding officer of the Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 4—Lengkeek has served in headquarters positions leading organizations and developed programmatic-level budgeting tools and maintenance investment strategies.
In the Navy, to become a field-grade officer, sailors are required to have a civil engineering degree and a PE license, something Lengkeek believes is extremely important in the work of a military engineer.
NSPE member Katherine Gregory, P.E., agrees. The retired rear admiral was the first female flag officer in the United States Civil Engineering Corps and former commander of the Naval Facilities Engineering Command Pacific. “All of the knowledge and experience required to have a PE license provides our industry partners some clear signal of our technical expertise,” she says, “so when we’re working on projects together, when we’re negotiating contracts, when we’re working on issues, we have some people who really understand what’s going on with the industry so we don’t feel like we’re at any disadvantage.”
“Our engineering expertise and professional engineer [license] is the foundation of our value proposition to the Navy,” Lengkeek says. “That, combined with the leadership and operational experience gained as Naval Officers, is what makes us effective as we advance into more senior leadership positions supporting Navy installations and Navy expeditionary forces.”
Army engineers, unlike Navy engineers, are not required to have a civil engineering degree or maintain a PE license; however, NSPE member Joe Manous Jr., P.E., who retired from active duty with the rank of colonel in 2008, says his PE license has given him opportunities he would not otherwise have had without his license.
During his time as an Army engineer, Manous was engaged in combat engineering, which is broken down into three specific types of engineering the Army relies on. The first, mobility, involves clearing roads and footpaths of improvised explosive devices and other hazardous objects—something Manous says was one of the main jobs that he and other Army engineers carried out during the Global War on Terror.
The second phase of combat engineering, counter mobility, is just the opposite of mobility engineering in that engineers build obstacles to prevent the enemy from moving around the battlefield. This phase includes tactics such as destroying bridges, blocking roads, creating airstrips, and digging trenches.
The third phase, survivability, is defined as the ability to remain mission-capable after a single engagement. In survivability engineering, Army engineers are responsible for improving detectability, susceptibility, vulnerability, and recoverability. This could include fortifying positions, making improvements or changes to equipment or vehicles, controlling damage, and restoring capabilities.
One instance Manous says showed the benefits of being licensed was when he was a major in 1992. As the executive officer of an airborne battalion during a training exercise in Fort Irwin, California, Manous was summoned to Fort Bragg North Carolina. Due to a budgetary oversight, Manous says, the Corps of Engineers had failed to obligate several millions of dollars in construction funds. Because of this, the commanding officer at Fort Bragg sought out Manous specifically—because of his designation as a field-grade officer with a PE license—to do renovations to the barracks at the base.
In the Air Force, like in the Army, civil engineers do not have to have a civil engineering degree, but to move up and to become a field grade officer, a PE license and civil engineering degree are absolutely vital.
Brig. Gen. Timothy Green, P.E., Air Force director of civil engineers, indicated this extra effort to become a PE is critical to the future of the branch. “Building a force of ready engineers and great leaders is one of our enduring responsibilities,” he says. “From initial Silver Flag contingency engineering training to continuing professional education for military and civilian engineers at the Air Force Institute of Technology, and through on-the-job training and mentoring at our installations, engineers are constantly developing their skills.”
Green believes that the Air Force is at a critical juncture for how to properly organize, train, equip, and employ US airmen engineer forces for the future. He believes that the keys to doing so will be because of lessons learned over the past decade as well as continuing the “staple” of what the Air Force has done in a contingency environment to assure engineers will continue to be agile, ready, and flexible into the future.
‘Worth the Effort’
Upon retiring from the military, many PEs find it easy to transition to civilian life, as the Army Corps of Engineers and defense industry partners are always seeking to employ qualified and knowledgeable engineers.
“Many of the aspects of our jobs are directly transferrable to civilian jobs in construction, engineering, and facility management,” Lengkeek says. “Our PE credentials combined with our experience performing engineering and construction management of Navy shore installations is translatable to a civilian job with an engineering or construction firm or in the field of facility management at a university or medical center.”
Green, Manous, and Lengkeek all emphasize that even without active military service, there are still ample opportunities for civilian engineers to support the military in an engineering capacity.
“Much of the workforce supporting Navy and DOD installations are civilian DOD employees,” Lengkeek said. “They are a vital part of keeping the Navy and DOD installations operating and provide similar opportunities for rewarding engineer careers supporting Navy and DOD missions. We’re always hiring.”
Gregory added that her worthwhile experiences as a PE in the military should provide an example for young people who are unsure of what the future holds for them. She believes that military engineering may be the best avenue for fulfillment for many because of the skill and dedication it takes.
“Any technical field, especially engineering, really provides a tremendous sense of purpose and responsibility and a chance to add value to the world,” Gregory says. “I think a lot of people in the world are trying to figure out what they can do that makes a difference, and I don’t think there’s any field that makes a difference as much as engineering or engineering-related professions do. I think you’ll find satisfaction in the ability to use your mind and your hands to solve real problems that people face and improve our world for the long term, and I think that engineers can do that more broadly than any other profession.”
“It’s worth the effort it takes. Because the opportunity to make a difference and the rewards are worth all the work and the effort.”