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Meeting the New Century (2001-2012)

The threat of international terrorism became a stark reality as the United States experienced the brutal and well-orchestrated suicide attack by Al Qaeda on September 11, 2001.

Travis Shaikhlsa Grading
Civil engineers from Travis AFB, California, support the buildup of forces at Shaikh Isa AB, Bahrain.
The attack resulted in an unprecedented number of civilian casualities and prompted both a military response and revised policies for domestic security. As eloquently summarized by Maj. Gen. L. Dean Fox, The Civil Engineer between 2003 and 2006, these events “ripped a hole in our nation and its sense of security.” After September 11, 2001, the U.S. military establishment focused on transformation to meet new challenges in a dynamic global environment.

The Pentagon attack particularly resonated with the Office of The Civil Engineer, which had moved from the D-Ring offices of the Pentagon to Crystal City during the 1997 renovation. The former offices were damaged directly during the attack. The relocated offices of The Civil Engineer in Crystal City provided a reconstitution point for the leadership of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Installations and Logistics team in the aftermath of the attack.

Working in a dust storm
Engineers lay AM-2 matting in a dust storm at a base in preparation for Operation Iraqi Freedom combat operations.
The U.S. response to the terrorist attack was swift and direct. The security of the country was safeguarded immediately through Operation Noble Eagle (ONE). Those responsible for the attack were sought through the initiation of a new kind of war, the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT), renamed Overseas Contingency Operations by 2011. Early military planning focused on Afghanistan, where Osama Bin Laden, the leader of Al Qaeda, lived and operated training bases for operatives with full knowledge of the Taliban government. Within weeks of the September 11, 2001 attacks, the United States formed an international coalition drawn from the United Nations (UN), NATO, and others, to support the fight against terrorism. Within a month, U.S. military leaders developed a plan for military operations and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), the code name for the war in Afghanistan, began on October 7, 2001. After the initial push, military action in Afghanistan waned for a few years as military operations in Iraq rose in prominence. A surge to stabilize Afghanistan occurred near the end of the decade and continued through 2011.

ERHS paving at Bagram
The 200 RED HORSE Squadron and 201 RED HORSE Flight make repairs to the runway at Bagram AB, Afghanistan in 2002.
During the mid-years of the decade, the Air Force goals were fighting and winning the GWOT; developing and caring for Airmen and their families; and, recapitalizing and modernizing the aging Air Force weapons systems.17 In 2009, a new set of Air Force strategic priorities was released. The new priorities were “reinvigorate the Air Force nuclear enterprise; partner with the joint and coalition teams to win today’s fight; develop and care for Airmen and their families; modernize our air and space inventories, organizations and training; and, recapture acquisition excellence.”

Private Estrada
Air Force Master Sgt. Jonathan Estrada, Civil Engineer for Kapisa Provincial Reconstruction Team from Yuba City, Calif., takes a measurement during a site survey for the proposed Abdul Hadi Padar secondary school in the Nijrab valley.

Air Force civil engineers contributed to all aspects of military activities throughout the decade. Air Force civil engineers were among the first responders at ground zero on September 11, 2001. They supported bases from which combat air patrols were launched during ONE. By the end of October 2001, Air Force civil engineers were on the ground in the countries surrounding Afghanistan to bed down troops involved in OEF and deployed into Afghanistan itself to build forward bases. Air Force civil engineers also were in place early in Southwest Asia (SWA) building and maintaining forward bases needed to support OIF. During the early phases of combat, more than 4,500 Air Force civil engineers\ deployed to the area of responsibility (AOR). They expanded 10 existing bases and established 12 new bases to accommodate troops and aircraft needed for the fight.19 Air Force civil engineers continued to support these long-term military commitments throughout the decade. They also served in new roles in combat situations as airborne RED HORSE, supporting Army personnel as “in lieu of” forces, and as expeditionary Prime BEEF units. Air Force civil engineers also were active in rebuilding missions and served worldwide on Air Force civil engineers served as advisors and instructors in setting up new emergency services and military units in Afghanistan and Iraq. No longer were Air Force civil engineers necessarily deployed with their units to erect tent cities to support Airmen and aircraft; by 2010, 53 percent of deployed Air Force civil engineers were tasked to joint expeditionary forces.

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