Sappers keep it simple getting back to basics
February 9, 2012
RFORT STEWART, Ga. - The week began as two Chinooks landed in a field, lowering their back ramps to allow the squads to exit quickly and secure the area.
Then the teams began to march, tracing along a road for over three miles before veering into the woods, fighting their way through rough terrain and brush that made their long trek even more treacherous.
The march wasn't easy for any of the Soldiers, 2nd Lt. Josh Biering said, the officer in-charge of the exercise for Co. C, 3rd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 1st Heavy Brigade Combat Team.
Negotiating the hazardous path wasn't their only focus.
While trying to maintain their footing, the squads had to measure curves, slopes and gap widths, which are tasks they could implement in a real world scenario.
"This whole week is just about basic engineering tasks that everyone needs to know," explained 2nd Lt. Biering. Going back to the basics may sound simple, but after deploying to established out-posts and forward operating bases in Iraq for so many years, the Raider Brigade's engineers are preparing themselves for whatever the future may bring from the ground up.
"Being part of a contingency expeditionary force, you don't know where you are going to go," said Capt. Thomas Anderson, the company commander for Co. C, 1/3 BSTB. "Thirty days from now, we could be in some no-man's-land where we'll have to build a FOB, place wire obstacles, check the area for mines and possibly have to breech into a location. We haven't done those things for the last ten years, so we need to get back to being confident in our core tasks."
The core tasks for a company of engineers involve knowing when and where to use different explosive charges, how to utilize them to their highest efficiency without injuring themselves or other Soldiers and how to detect and eliminate enemy traps.
The six training lanes used to focus on those tasks throughout the week include an urban breech site, mine wire obstacle breeching using a Bangalore torpedo to clear a hole through obstacles, the creation of hasty road craters, infantry maneuver tactics, mine sweeps with hand-held mine detectors and placement of wire obstacles to stop enemy vehicle advances.
But those are just a few of the skills needed to be proficient as a combat engineer.
"There is such a broad spectrum of [operations] we do as engineers that you couldn't cover it all in a week," explained Sgt. Jonathan Rounds, a combat engineer and squad leader with Co. C, 1/3 BSTB. "This is really just the basic focus of what we do, there is no way you could sum it all up in one exercise."
The squads have to complete each lane twice, once during the day and once at night. For each time, there is a different rubric that graders' use to determine the team's efficiency.
"At the end, we are going to get all of the rubrics and compare each squad to see how they did relative to each other," said 2nd Lt. Biering, a native of Richmond Hill, Ga. "Rolling competition into it will make the squads try harder because the one that wins gets a four-day pass and bragging rights."
Sergeant Rounds, a native of Corning, NY, said that training hands-on like this has many benefits.
"Coming out here we actually get to learn more about each other," he explained. "We see who the stronger players are, and where our weaker assets are so we know what we need to work on and pull together. [My squad] is doing awesome so far though. It was kind of rough at the start, but we pulled things together and I think we are going to do all right."
The engineering tasks won't be the biggest challenge for Sgt. Rounds' squad, he continued.
"The most challenging thing for my squad, I think, will be the infantry maneuver lane," Sgt. Rounds said. "Because anything can happen at any given time, your team has to all be on track, they have to know each other's job and they have to be able to think on their toes; if they don't someone is going to get hurt."
Testing these Soldiers on a variety of skills gives the company a chance to evaluate where everyone is standing, and see how to improve training so each engineer is able to execute their jobs safely and effectively in combat situations.
"[This week] gives the Soldiers a chance to implement their engineering skills, and the squad leaders a chance to use their training and conduct troop-leading procedures," said 2nd Lt. Biering.
For Sgt. Rounds, being able to lead his squad allows him to see where he stands as a leader, and his troops to show him their proficiency. This time starts to build trust among them all, for the day it is no longer just training.
"In garrison you can't sit and say,'I'm a squad leader and I do everything right,' he concluded. "Out here is where it counts. It shows the trust the men have in me, and I can show the trust I have in them by letting them do what they need to do. I have no doubt in my mind they will do their job [while deployed], look out for each other and bring their battle buddies home."