A Marine Innovation Unit (MIU) representative observed a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers demonstration of automated additive construction techniques at Camp Atterbury, Indiana, October 19, 2023.
Marine Corps Maj. Max Wineland, a special operations command liaison officer representing MIU, observed the technique used to build a concrete structure and perform blast testing conducted on a 3D printed structure. The event was held to help educate service members on this technology and create a new way to quickly build safe and reliable structures.
“There were two main reasons the MIU got involved,” said Wineland. “One, there was a call to bring in subject matter experts to participate in the build using this 3D printing technique to provide the team feedback. The second main reason is so that we’re staying abreast of new and upcoming technology that is being developed by the Army Corps of Engineers that the Marine Corps might be interested in pursuing in the future.”
Before the blast, participants began learning about this technology in a classroom setting.
“We trained Air Force, Army and Marines on how to go through and print,” said Megan Krieger, program manager of the additive construction program, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. “We were in a classroom setting where we trained them on everything from the materials development all the way through to operating the computer and completing the construction process.”
It was important the trainees had a basic understanding of the materials they were working with.
“The goal is to do expedient construction to really benefit the war fighters and to essentially reduce the logistics to be able to print with locally available materials,” said Krieger. “We are not using proprietary materials; we go into a site and we are able to print within days of us arriving.”
After learning about additive printing, the service members jumped into action. With the help of USACE, they completed the project in five days.
According to Krieger, this is the first time a full-size building was created using additive construction. Additive construction is when an object is created one layer at a time. This structure, a small, rectangular concrete building with no windows and only one door, took about 18 hours to print. Despite having the capabilities to build more complex structures, it is important they keep it basic.
“When we do the blast testing, we have to have very simple geometry in order to collect reliable data,” explained Krieger. “Right now, we’re testing the baseline; it’s normal geometry with no improvements.”
With the structure completed, the blast testing commenced. The subject matter experts were there to assess the damage once the dust cleared.
“The weapons-effects specialists have techniques to look at cracks to see how the structure responded to the explosion and they can assess the strength from there,” said Wineland.
The USACE team hopes to continue this joint project and eventually create software design and repositories to help make printing a simple, quick process for service members.
“We really want the uniformed personnel to be able to take this technology and build for themselves,” said Krieger.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Louisville District completed construction of the Digital Air-Ground Integration Range at Fort Knox, Kentucky, June 9, 2023. The range complex is designed to replicate a complex operational environment and serves to train and qualify soldiers to detect, identify, engage and defeat stationary and moving targets.
The $25 million contract for the construction of the high-tech live-fire range includes more than 400 target emplacements, which will accommodate new and renovated stationary and moving infantry and vehicle targets. The construction contract which also included an urban cluster, machine gun bunkers and new range control tower was awarded on Sept. 26, 2019.
The design for the roughly 2,000 square-acre range, which is only the second of its kind, was completed in-house by USACE engineers at the Louisville District.
“With the design being in-house, it made it easier for us in the construction division to communicate with the designers because they were with USACE,” said Drake Sullivan, USACE project engineer. “Streamlined communication helped the project move along quicker without needing to go through a third-party Architect-Engineer firm.”
The sheer size and environmental attributes of the project posed some unique challenges for construction. Travel through the construction site would often take 30 to 45 minutes to traverse. Partly due to the nearly three-and-a-half-mile length and partly due to the range occupying a low-lying area with a high-water table, the muddy conditions and river obstacle required constant communication between construction teams.
“It was a huge challenge for the contractor to supervise and communicate with the different construction teams because of the way the range is laid out,” Sullivan said. “It was equally as difficult for us to navigate the range to complete our quality assurance checks.”
Another challenge was the fact that large portions of the existing range were not yet cleared of munitions. A staggered notice to proceed was implemented to allow construction to start in specific areas while other areas were being cleared of munitions.
“To overcome this challenge, we communicated very heavily with the contractor and the rest of the USACE team,” Sullivan said. “This project has had a great safety record that reflects no reportable or lost-time accidents.”
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Louisville District park rangers worked with the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Department to safely cordon off an area within Green River Lake for Kentucky National Guard Soldiers to parachute, Aug. 5, 2023, in Campbellsville, Kentucky.
“The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers along with Campbellsville Fire and Rescue and Kentucky Fish and Wildlife have been extremely accommodating in assisting us with ensuring the safety of our paratroopers,” said U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Raymond Lunger, 20th Special Forces Group Military Intelligence Company readiness NCO and jumpmaster. “Working with the Army Corps of Engineers has been great. They have been extremely helpful and go out of their way to ensure we are taken care of for the airborne operation.”
The Kentucky National Guard chose Green River Lake to conduct a deliberate water jump because the size of the water area that is available to parachute is sufficient to safely accommodate paratroopers and their parachutes. Additionally, the available space at boat ramp one was able to accommodate the types of boats required for the operation. With the exception of 2022, the Kentucky National Guard has been parachuting into Green River Lake since 2011.
“The National Guard training day at Green River Lake is an event where the Kentucky National Guard, Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, Campbellsville Fire-Rescue, Kentucky Department of Parks, and USACE come together to ensure safe and successful training occurs,” said Lori Brewster, Green River Lake park manager. “It turns into a community event because it is publicized and members from the local community come out, set up on the dam or the visitor center point to watch the guardsman drop into the lake.”
To ensure a safe event for everyone, USACE park rangers ensured the jump area was clear of obstacles, coordinated communication between participating agencies and provided traffic control on the dam. During the jumps, park rangers directed boaters outside of the ‘drop zone’ and assisted lake patrons and spectators.
“It’s just an enjoyable day and a joint cooperation between many agencies to make it happen,” Brewster said.
Progress in a profession is often the result of an innovator identifying an issue, proposing a solution and working to accomplish that solution. That is just what the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Kansas City District did in 2012 when they collaborated with the Command and General Staff College, also known as the CGSC, hosted at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, to develop a new educational program. CGSC is a joint, interagency, intergovernmental and multinational College, and was the perfect place for a program to teach more about USACE.
At the time, the Kansas City District identified a need for greater recruitment of officers into USACE, as well as a need for increased understanding across the U.S. Army of what USACE could provide to the nation. The solution they proposed, spearheaded by then district commander Col. Anthony Hofmann, was Training with Industry, or TWI, an educational program administered by the Kansas City District. The program is now an annual elective in the CGSC curriculum. The first few years of the program, the class averaged about 10 to 15 students. This year, 31 students participated in TWI, including international students from partner nations. The 2023 course started on April 6 and ran through May 31. Although the need to recruit officers into USACE is still ongoing, the benefits from the program have not gone unnoticed.
“[TWI] has received outstanding reviews by U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, U.S. Army Engineer School, USACE and CGSC,” said Larry Myers, executive officer for the Kansas City District and administer for the TWI program. “[It] was heralded by former Chief of Engineers, Lt. Gen Todd Semonite, as an innovative and excellent partnership with the U.S. Army warfighters.”
This year, students visited the KC Levees project, discussed lake operations and management at the Smithville Lake dam, toured the Lower Missouri River by boat, learned about water management and river maintenance activities and spent 10-12 hours job shadowing a USACE subject matter expert.
Students also attend a Q&A session with the Kansas City District commander, Col. Travis Rayfield, for a commander’s perspective on leading a district.
Lt. Col. John Chambers, deputy commander for the Kansas City District, provides command oversight for the TWI program. His role is focused on ensuring TWI continues to operate smoothly, while making sure the students receive training that is relevant to their specific interests.
“In the program we have engineer officers, we have non-engineer officers and we also have officer’s from sister services or other countries,” Chambers said. “I work with the USACE team to set up times for students to visit the project sites and business lines and ensure we have the right mix of mentors available for the interests of the CGSC students.”
During the program, the students are given a list of different USACE career fields where they could seek mentorship. For example, they could be partnered with a USACE employee working in hydropower, operations, hydrology or more. Although there is a list of approximately 15 topics students could choose from for the individual study and mentorship portion of the program, there is flexibility built in to support diverse interests.
“[Students] have the ability to propose other topics [for individual study], which the District is happy to support if they have the expertise available at the time,” said John Wettack, a professor at CGSC who administers the program. “For example, discussing geographic information systems, or GIS, and geospatial usage was a student-initiated topic several years ago that is now a staple of the program.”
Working with the TWI students is a learning experience for the USACE employees as well. Melissa Bean, a natural resource management specialist for the Kansas City District, is one of many USACE employees who work with the TWI students during the program. Within her career field, Bean engages with the students and helps determine their interests and learning goals.
“I really enjoy sharing our passion for the natural resource management missions with the next generation of leadership,” Bean said. “I gain a lot of understanding of their experiences and goals coming through CGSC and the Army as a whole, and I hope they walk away with the same [increased] knowledge of programs.”
Bean works with her team to tailor the visits to the lake projects during the program to make the most of the students’ time spent learning about the recreation and environmental stewardship programs within USACE.
“I think most of the students are surprised by the variety and complexity of programs under the recreation and environmental stewardship program,” Bean said. “The students were quickly engaged in discussions about facility and natural resource management, real estate outgrants, contracting, partnership agreements, public outreach and more.”
In addition to recreation and the other divisions within USACE, the Kansas City District even opened up the deputy district commander position as a mentor this year, with the intent being for a student to shadow the deputy commander and learn about what positions might be available to them after their developmental time in a tactical engineer unit.
Beyond opportunities for the active-duty officers, Chambers highlighted the benefits of exposure to USACE for students in the Reserves or National Guard. Beyond the importance of recruiting military officers for leadership positions, USACE also employs an approximately 98% civilian work force. USACE employs members of the National Guard and the Reserves in a civilian capacity and is a supportive and flexible place of work for part-time military members.
“This program helps other officers who are in the Reserves or National Guard understand their employment opportunities,” Chambers said. “It helps them understand what USACE provides for them, not just as a military employer but also a civilian one.”
Whether it’s mission, mentorship or employment opportunities, the program provides valuable information to the students that they can carry with them in their careers going forward. The education, exposure and experience TWI provides CGSC supports the college’s mission of educating, training and developing leaders for a wide variety of operational environments.
“Any time you can offer something that gets [the students] out … into something that more and more people are starting to see as a potential long-term career path, that raises interest,” said Wettack. “The ability of the [Kansas City] District to support this program with their time and personnel, and the energy and enthusiasm they provide into it, have made it what it is today.”