The lineage and honors of the 20th Engineer Brigade date back to the Civil War. First designated as the Battalion of Engineers on Aug. 3, 1861, the battalion participated in 10 campaigns during the Civil War. Since the time, unit designations changed many times as predecessors of the 20th Engineers Brigade served in the War with Spain, the Philippine Insurrection, the Mexican Expedition and World Wars I and II.
On Aug. 16, 1950 the brigade was first designated as the 20th Engineer Brigade and activated at Camp Leonard Wood, Missouri. The brigade deployed overseas in November 1952 and provided engineer construction support in southwestern France. Upon redeploying back to the United States, the brigade was activated at Fort Bragg on Sept. 10, 1954. From that time until its inactivation on Dec. 12, 1958, the brigade provided engineer support to XVIII Airborne Corps.
In response to the build up of U.S. forces in the Republic of Vietnam, the brigade headquarters was reactivated on May 1, 1967 at Fort Bragg and deployed to Vietnam in August 1967. During the Vietnam conflict, the brigade consisted of over 13,000 Soldiers organized into three engineer groups, with 14 battalions and 31 separate companies and detachments. The brigade provided all non-divisional engineer support in Military Regions III and IV during 11 campaigns, constructed bridges totaling more than six miles in length. As forces were withdrawing from Vietnam, the brigade was in activated Sept. 2, 1971.
The 20th Engineer Brigade was reactivated at Fort Bragg on June 21, 1974 and assigned as a subordinate command of the XVII Abn. Corps with one airborne combat engineer battalion, a heavy construction battalion and four separate companies. Since that time the brigade and its subordinate units supported the XVII Abn. Corps fulfilling critical combat engineer, construction, topographic, and bridging missions. As requirements and the engineer force structure changed, the brigade inactivated the combat heavy battalion in 1987 and activated another combat airborne battalion. In 1989, the 30th Engineer Battalion (Topographic) (Theater Army) was added to the brigade.
On Aug. 2, 1990 the brigade was called to support the multinational response to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. The brigade grew to a 7,700 Soldier force composed of three groups, 10 battalions, four separate companies, and eight detachments in support of XVIII Abn. Corps during Operations Desert Shield and Storm. The brigade completed 1,500 combat heavy battalion’s equivalent days of work constructing roads, airfields, heliports, ammunition/fuel/water storage points, life coalition engineers, and supported the French attack on Assalman Airfield. During follow-on missions, the brigade destroyed over 6,000 enemy bunkers and one million tons of munitions.
Throughout the years, the brigade has deployed in support of operations across the entire spectrum of conflict from disaster relief to combat operations. In September 1994, the brigade deployed to Haiti in support of Uphold Democracy. The headquarters stayed south with the 30th and the 27th Engineer Battalions in Port Au Prince and the 37th Engineer Battalion went north to Camp Haitian. The main focus was base camp construction and humanitarian projects. In 2001, the 27th Engineer Bn. deployed for six months to provide engineering support in Kosovo.
As the Global War on Terrorism commenced, the brigade sent elements to numerous countries to include Afghanistan, Kuwait and Iraq. Since spring 2002, 12 of the 17 companies of the brigade have deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) or both.
(Editor’s note: This is part one of a two-part story about the history of the 20th Engineer Brigade. For part two, see next week’s Paraglide.)