The Transatlantic Expeditionary District, headquartered at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, is the only district in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that is expeditionary and forward deployed.
As a contingency district, it relies heavily on military and civilian volunteers to fill the critical roles and responsibilities necessary to take on the complex engineering and construction environment that is the Middle East.
The Expeditionary District, which falls under the management of the Army Corps of Engineers’ Transatlantic Division, was formed in May 2021 from the merger of two battle-tested districts, the Transatlantic Afghanistan District and Task Force Essayons, which focused on construction projects in Iraq.
But the Expeditionary District’s legacy in the Middle East goes back decades to the Trans-East District in the 1960s. The current district has morphed continuously in size and mission scope over the past 60 years, down a windy road paved with temporary districts known by their alphabet soup acronyms of AAO, TAS, AED, TAA, TAC, TAS, TAN, TAM, GRN, GRC, GRS, GRD, TFE and a few more.
Today, roughly 85% of the roles and positions in the Expeditionary District are filled by current Army Corps of Engineers civilian employees from stateside districts. Many have supported contingency operations and natural disaster support in other regions including the U.S., and most have had multiple deployments.
The civilians deployed with the Expeditionary District are often here to accept a promotion opportunity, or to supercharge their experiences and skillsets, which they take back to their home districts and engineering units.
On the military side, one state’s Army National Guard - Texas - stands out for years of unwavering support to the military engineering mission in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Sam Houston, the first president of Texas, as well as an American general, lawyer and politician once said, “A leader is someone who helps improve the lives of other people or improve the system they live under.”
That philosophy holds strong and true in the many engineers the Texas Military Department has deployed over the years to support the Army Corps of Engineers mission across the Middle East and the U.S. Central Command’s combatant commanders.
True to the National Guard’s motto “Always Ready, Always There,” over the years Texas Army National Guard (TXARNG) engineers have stepped up to support Army Corps of Engineers deployed positions, following the lead of Col. Zebadiah Miller, a TXARNG construction and facilities management officer.
“These tours serve two valuable purposes: they fulfill a Corps of Engineers manpower requirement, and the officers gain valuable experience in a world-class organization,” Miller said. “It’s even better when it’s with the Transatlantic Division in such a complex environment.”
Miller was the first of many TXARNG engineers that deployed to support the Transatlantic Division, having sought out his deployment after looking for career-broadening opportunities overseas.
He mentioned that fact to then U.S. Army Col. Mark Quander, at that time the commander of the Transatlantic Division, who was responsible for managing all the Army Corps of Engineers offices in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“The next day I got a call from Human Resources, and I left soon afterwards,” Miller said.
Between 2019 and 2020, Miller deployed with the Afghanistan District, where he was the Kabul Area officer-in-charge. Later, he moved to Bagram to serve as their district operations officer.
After his deployment, he went back to Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas, and told other engineer officers about the growth and career development opportunities with the Transatlantic Division in the deserts of the Middle East.
Following in Miller’s footsteps was Capt. Angel Nunez, who deployed and supported Corps of Engineers under the Army’s Worldwide Individual Augmentation System, then Maj. Ed Zook from 2020 - 2021, Burhan Girgin, a TXARNG civilian from 2020-2022, Capt. Kevin Volz from 2021 – 2022, and the current crop of deployed TXARNG engineer officers, Lt. Col. Peter Ammerman and Capt. Bradly Williams.
Girgin, a Turkish native who immigrated to the U.S. in the mid-90s, spent 23 years in the Texas Military Department in various positions related to geospatial and IT.
When Miller asked him if he could find a geospatial specialist within TXARNG to support the Army Corps of Engineers mission in Afghanistan, he knew he wanted to be that person.
“I always envied our soldiers and airmen going to deployments,” Girgin said. “Of course, that wasn’t an option for a state employee like me at the time. Thankfully though, when I was contacted by Col. Miller in the summer of 2019, I was qualified to retire from my job. I applied for the direct hire position with Army Corps of Engineers and was accepted.”
Girgin knew that after saying goodbye to so many of his fellow Texas Army National Guard soldiers that have served in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, that he also wanted to support his adopted country, the United States, and use his language and cultural skills to make a difference.
After Miller welcomed him during a cold January night in Afghanistan, Girgin would end up working in Afghanistan, redeploy to the U.S. during Covid, then deploy to Kuwait where he supported the Kuwait, Syria and Iraq missions, spending almost two solid years deployed.
“I consider myself very fortunate to join them in the Middle East and contribute to the Army Corps of Engineers mission as a former Texas state civilian employee,” Girgin stated.
For Volz, a military Sapper or combat engineer, with 10 years of military service, deploying to support the Army Corps of Engineers’ mission was one of timing and a bit of influencing by Miller, and mentoring by Zook.
“I had been in contact with the previous two commands of Task Force Essayons holding out for the right time in my career to deploy and timing for this opportunity lined up perfect with the end of my company command,” Volz said.
Volz had grown up wanting to join the military for as long as he could remember and when he was in college decided to change his contract from active duty to National Guard.
“My stepfather became my recruiter and guided me into the Texas Army National Guard,” Volz said.
Volz, who has since redeployed to his stateside duties, was the former Al Asad Air Base’s Corps of Engineers officer-in-charge and Iraq Project Manager. While deployed, he managed both personnel and several complex Special Operations Joint Task Force - Levant construction projects, as well as managed construction efforts on the air base.
Volz used his engineering experience to help shape the current and future footprint of the base.
In his civilian world, Volz is a reliability engineer for a Houston-based energy technology company that has been extremely supportive of his deployments.
“I’d encourage anyone reading this from the TXARNG, or any other engineering unit, to take this opportunity; it’ll be one of the greatest learning experiences in their career,” Volz stated.
Ammerman, another Miller-influenced recruit, is a military engineer and the current deputy commander for TAE. He has been with the Texas Army National Guard for eight years, having transferred from the Hawaii Army National Guard.
He joined the Expeditionary District in November of 2021 and oversees the staff functions along with all personnel actions in the district. Ammerman was also assigned as the interim commander from April through July 2022, following the short-notice promotion and reassignment of the previous TAE commander.
In Ammerman’s 19-year career, this is his fifth deployment to the Middle East, and the first with the Corps of Engineers.
“Col. Miller really sold me on the deputy position when he explained the benefits and experiences I would gain learning about the Corps of Engineer’s processes in a Combatant Command’s area of operations,” Ammerman said. “While being in this billet, I’ve noted numerous positive leadership attributes that I’ll benefit from in the future. Working with this organization has opened my eyes to a multitude of engineering processes.”
Ammerman went on to say that the Texas Army National Guard produced highly qualified engineer officers looking to expand their horizons and the Army Corps of Engineers had the capability and capacity to assist those engineers with fulfilling that quest.
When asked about the impact and influence the TXARNG has had on the Army Corps of Engineers mission in the Middle East, Miller saw it as the start of a legacy, one that he helped shape and mold.
“I’ve been very involved in TXARNG talent management since I was a young major; I’ve had the privilege to see some of these officers like Nunez, Volz and Williams grow from platoon leaders and embrace this broadening opportunity with the Corps,” Miller said. “I’m proud knowing I have officers like Ammerman, Volz and Williams coming up behind me, representing the TXARNG.”
Two additional TXARNG engineers, Lt. Col. Adam Brock and Master Sgt. Brian Randolph, are slated to join the TAE team in fall of 2022, to continue TXARNG’s legacy of service to the Corps of Engineers mission in the Middle East. Brock will relieve Ammerman as the deputy commander, and Randolph will be the noncommissioned officer-in-charge of the Corps’ office supporting Operation Inherent Resolve.
As the sun sets in Texas, another day starts in Kuwait and Iraq, where the motto for the Transatlantic Expeditionary District is “Always Forward.”
It is only fitting that when these mottos are combined, the men and women of the Texas Army National Guard stand tall alongside the Transatlantic Division’s Expeditionary District, and together are “Always Ready, Always There” and “Always Forward.”
“Being an engineer in the TXARNG is a family of its own,” Volz said. “But being a part of a unit with those individuals with such diverse experience and getting to work with the Corps of Engineers in a contingency environment, well that is something really special.”