Being All We Can Be

The Transatlantic Division’s 70-plus year legacy remains an integral part of the U.S. Army’s enduring story.


As the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Transatlantic Division Public Affairs Office regional director, and as a retired Army Soldier, I share the distinct professional responsibility – and the deep personal privilege – of telling the story of one of the most unique divisions within the Army Corps of Engineers.

As the nation commemorated the U.S. Army’s 248th birthday on June 14, USACE stood as a strong pillar of support, reaffirming its indispensable role in fortifying the Army’s mission. With a rich and storied history dating back to the Revolutionary War, USACE has steadfastly provided a strong foundation, showcasing its significance in diverse operations, infrastructure development, and disaster response efforts. The Army’s enduring motto, “Be all you can be,” resonates deeply with USACE and our collective commitment to Building Strong as we march forward to the shout of Essayons! (Let us try).

USACE played an indelible role in shaping the history of our nation. From its pivotal contributions during the American Civil War to the remarkable efforts in World War II and beyond, it has always stood on the frontline. USACE Soldiers and civilians, essential in constructing vital infrastructure and responding to disasters, have cemented their place in the annals of American history. Their unwavering dedication, manifesting the Army’s spirit of resilience and determination, is epitomized in the Army Corps of Engineers’ motto Essayons. Their commitment to fortify wherever and whenever the Army requires has bolstered the Army’s mission, engendering a strong and resilient force always ready to protect the nation.

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But the USACE spirit of determination and resilience extends far beyond domestic frontiers. In the 1950s, the Army Corps of Engineers embarked on a significant journey to support the Middle East region. This marked a pivotal moment as they expanded their reach beyond the traditional operations within the United States. USACE played a vital role in managing military construction projects, and contributed to non-military initiatives such as building civilian air terminals, developing road systems, constructing port facilities, and other military construction.

During this time, USACE also aided in infrastructure development in allied nations. Their efforts played a significant role in strengthening military capabilities, improving transportation and connectivity, and supporting economic growth in the region. USACE’s dedication resulted in long-term partnerships and the establishment of crucial military infrastructure, solidifying their contribution to regional stability and development. These early initiatives laid the foundation for a long-standing relationship between us and the Middle East, establishing a legacy of engineering excellence that endures to this day.

The evolution of the Transatlantic Division itself is a testament to the dynamism and adaptability of USACE. From 1952 to 1976, the Mediterranean Division of USACE undertook numerous military and non-military construction projects across regions such as Turkey, Libya, Saudi Arabia, and Morocco. Notable works included building civilian air terminals, establishing road systems, and constructing port facilities. The division’s broad scope of operations showcased their versatility in managing both military and non-military projects. Through their efforts, they played a significant role in the growth and stability of these regions.

Col. William C. Hannan, Jr., USACE Transatlantic Division commander (center), Col. Richard Childers, Transatlantic Expeditionary District commander (left), and Ahmed A. Madhkoor, P.E., PMP, Expeditionary District mechanical engineer and project engineer (right), walk a project site at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, Jan. 26, 2023. USACE PHOTO BY CATHERINE CARROLL

An increasing focus on Saudi Arabia led to the establishment of a new division for this specific undertaking. This resulted in the creation of the Middle East Division in 1976. With headquarters in Riyadh, the Middle East Division was responsible for overseeing extensive construction programs throughout Saudi Arabia. This division collaborated with the Saudi Arabian government on a significant design and construction program encompassing the development of military cantonments, air bases, navy bases, hospitals, and more.

U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) was established on January 1, 1983, in response to the rapidly changing geopolitical environment, recognition of the Middle East’s strategic importance, and the need for a dedicated command to ensure regional stability, manage potential threats. USACE played a vital role in supporting CENTCOM in its mission from its beginning.

Post the completion of the Saudi Arabian program, USACE underwent a crucial reorganization. This led to the formation of the Middle East/Africa Projects Office (MEAPO) in 1986. Serving customers across the Middle East and Africa, MEAPO managed diverse projects such as the design and construction of facilities in Oman, support for defense forces in Egypt, Bahrain, and Kuwait, and participation in various other programs.

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During Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, MEAPO swiftly deployed to Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, providing essential design, construction, and real estate services to support U.S. forces. MEAPO played a crucial role in ensuring the infrastructure and support necessary for the success of U.S. military operations during this critical period. These efforts were instrumental in promoting stability and security across the Middle East and Central Asia, underlining the enduring value of our regional partnerships and our unwavering commitment to CENTCOM’s mission.

In response to developments in Europe and the Middle East, the Transatlantic Division was established in 1991. This first iteration of the Transatlantic Division undertook various new programs, assisting in the recovery of Kuwait, supporting relief efforts for Kurdish refugees, and expanding engineering support in the Middle East. Due to internal restructuring, the division was renamed the Transatlantic Programs Center in 1995, which expanded its operations over the following years to places such as Kenya, Tanzania, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

In 2009, the Transatlantic Programs Center transformed into the Middle East District, continuing its mission of providing products and services to the Middle East, Central Asia, and other areas. At the same time, the Transatlantic Division Headquarters was established in Winchester, Virginia, to provide unified command for all Army Corps of Engineers’ organizations operating within the CENTCOM area of operations. As part of this reorganization, multiple changes were made to the districts and their responsibilities, including the establishment of two task forces, based on evolving operational requirements over the next several years.

The Transatlantic Afghanistan District, operating from 2009 to 2021, played a crucial role in supporting the U.S. Army’s mission in Afghanistan. The Afghanistan District’s history traces back to October 2001, when the United States and coalition forces entered Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. In response to a request from the Office of Military Cooperation-Afghanistan, USACE established the Afghanistan area office in Kabul in September 2002 to repair and construct Afghan National Army and National Police facilities. The workload increased, leading to the formation of the Afghanistan Engineer District (AED) in 2004, with AED-North in Kabul and AED-South in Kandahar. Under the umbrella of the Transatlantic Division, the Afghanistan District executed USACE’s mission in Afghanistan, focusing on military construction project at Bagram Airfield and Kandahar Airfield. In December 2020, the district’s headquarters relocated to Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, and continued its operations from there until the U.S. withdraw in 2021.

U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Scott A. Spellmon, 55th chief of engineers and commanding general of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (center left), speaks with Maj. Gen. Essa Ali E M Al-Kubaisi, Qatar Emeri Corps of Engineers (QECE) commander (center right), during a meeting at the QECE Headquarters in Qatar, May 17, 2023.
USACE PHOTO BY RICHARD RZEPKA

The Mosul Dam Task Force, deployed from 2016 to 2019, exemplified the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ commitment to safeguarding critical infrastructure. In response to the deteriorating condition of the Mosul Dam in Iraq, the task force provided engineering expertise and technical support to stabilize the dam. Their efforts transformed the dam from being known as the “world’s most dangerous dam” to a stable structure. By completing the largest dam safety drilling and grouting project ever undertaken, the task force mitigated the risks posed by the dam and ensured regional stability. Additionally, their comprehensive training programs empowered local workers and engineers to maintain the dam effectively in the future.

Task Force Essayons, operational from 2017 to 2020, played a vital role in supporting the U.S. Army’s mission to combat the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. Operating under the tactical control of the Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve, the task force provided crucial support to more than 30 bases in the region. Through innovative approaches in project management, engineering, construction, and environmental management, Task Force Essayons efficiently delivered more than 300 projects valued at more than $211 million. Its efforts directly supported the warfighters and contributed to the overall success of the mission.

These organizational units, this team of teams within the Transatlantic Division, demonstrated unwavering support to the Army and its operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. By executing critical projects, they enhanced operational capabilities, ensured the safety of essential infrastructure, and directly contributed to the overall mission success in the Middle East and Central Asia.
The establishment of the Transatlantic Expeditionary District in 2021 marks our most recent development. Located in Kuwait, this district plays a vital role in supporting multiple operations such as Operation Spartan Shield and Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve. As the newest element of the Transatlantic Division and the USACE’s only forward-deployed district, it has been specifically structured to deliver project management, engineering, design, environmental support, construction management, and real estate services within CENTCOM’s area of responsibility (AOR).

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The Transatlantic Expeditionary District’s primary objective is to provide cost-effective and sustainable engineering solutions and services that strengthen the security and stability of our nation and our allied mission partners. It brings theaterwide engineering expertise to support U.S., coalition, and host-nation efforts in building partner capacity within the CENTCOM AOR and advancing overall CENTCOM mission objectives. With its unique capabilities and resources, the expeditionary district is well equipped to deliver timely and relevant engineering solutions, ensuring the safety and security of our allied mission partners. Its personnel embody the spirit of “Always Forward” as they work tirelessly to support contingency operations and foster stability. Their commitment to excellence is demonstrated through their ability to deliver effective engineering services that are crucial in meeting the challenges of our dynamic operational environment.

These initiatives and operations highlight the critical role of the Transatlantic Division in supporting military operations, infrastructure development, and capacity building in the Middle East and Central Asia. Through our extensive work, we continue to significantly contribute to regional stability, infrastructure repair and construction, and the development of local expertise.

The evolution of the Transatlantic Division organization not only highlights our commitment to supporting the Army’s mission, but also reflects our dedication to continuous improvement. We recognize the importance of staying agile and adaptive in an ever-changing operational landscape. By embracing new technologies, refining processes, and cultivating partnerships, our team of teams continues to evolve, ensuring its relevance and effectiveness in meeting the Army’s evolving needs.

With a dynamic legacy and a profound understanding of the unique needs and complexities of the region, the Transatlantic Division has established itself as a trusted partner of choice. In a region where relationships are paramount to success, our extensive expertise and experience in delivering engineering, design, and construction services have made a lasting impact. For more than 70 years, we have played a pivotal role in the development of critical infrastructure, the support of military operations, and the promotion of stability. Our unwavering commitment to excellence continues to shape the future and pave the way for continued success in the region.

As we forge ahead to the resounding beat of “Let us try,” the Army can have no doubt that we are being all we can be in supporting its mission and ensuring future generations of Soldiers and civilians can continue to be all they can be across the CENTCOM and U.S. Special Operations Command AORs.

As we commemorate the Army’s 248 years of unwavering dedication to our nation’s defense, take a moment to reflect on the invaluable contributions of the USACE and its workforce. Countless generations of engineers have channeled their intellect, creativity, and unwavering determination to establish the foundations that sustain and support the Army’s mission. Their remarkable efforts in conceptualizing, constructing, and fortifying infrastructure have not only bolstered the Army’s operational capabilities, but also played a crucial role in our nation’s advancement. Through their steadfast commitment, they have fortified our nation’s security and contributed significantly to our collective progress.

The history of USACE and the Transatlantic Division’s legacy within it form an integral part of our Army’s enduring story, serving as a testament to the power of resilience, adaptability, and innovation. We have been a collective bedrock of strength, enabling our Army to move, live, and fight with unwavering determination. Our unwavering commitment has not only supported our Army’s mission but has also demonstrated our vital role in fortifying our nation’s security. Together, we exemplify the core values and spirit of the Army, standing as a testament to the remarkable achievements that arise from unwavering dedication.


Learn more about the history of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at: www.usace.army.mil/About/History/Brief-History-of-the-Corps/ and www.usace.army.mil/About/History/Historical-Vignettes/ Learn more about the history of the Transatlantic Division and USACE’s history in the Middle East in the publication Brick, Sand, and Marble at: history.army.mil/html/books/bricks_sand_and_marble/index.html

This article is featured in the 2023-2024 edition of America’s Engineers: The People, Programs, and Projects of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

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