US, Polish engineers intergrate obstacle training

By 1st. Lt Christian WardynskiSeptember 29, 2016

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TRZEBIEN, Poland -- Under the cover of darkness, the sound of hammering metal rings through the night as Sappers from Company B, 54th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 173rd Airborne Brigade fastidiously emplace wire obstacles to reinforce blocking positions within their respective area of operation.

Sappers from B Co., 54th BEB, joined forces with paratroopers from Company D 2nd Battalion 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade and the Polish 18th Airborne Battalion, 6th Airborne Brigade, to conduct combined training during Exercise Pantera 2016, from Sept. 17-22, 2016 here.

"This exercise allowed us to venture outside our normal ways of integrating obstacles on the battlefield by introducing mine field emplacement and marking by our Polish engineer partners," said Sgt. 1st Class Peter Pena, platoon sergeant with B Co., 54th BEB.

During this combined exercise, Sappers from B Co., 54th BEB integrated with the Polish Engineer Platoon, HQ Company, 18th Airborne Battalion during an airborne assault, airfield clearance and assessment, and combined defensive operations.

"This has been a great opportunity for our Soldiers to truly comprehend the threat of mines and the anti-handling devices commonly used to disrupt our detectors or hinder our freedom of maneuver throughout the battlefield," said Pena. "The lessons learned and shared knowledge gained between us and our Polish engineer allies was invaluable to our younger Soldiers."

To prepare for the defensive mission and working with unfamiliar munitions, Sappers conducted training on wire and road crater obstacle emplacement; clearing and disarming of explosive hazards; detection and marking of possible improvised explosive devices (IEDs); and familiarization training with anti-tank mines and munitions typical of that in the Polish arsenal.

The Sappers from B Co., 54th BEB, proved their worth in the culminating defensive mission, in which they were tasked with emplacing multiple wire obstacles and simulated road craters to establish blocking positions. To reinforce these obstacles, the Sappers from B Co., 54th BEB worked with engineers from the Polish Engineer Platoon, HQ Company, 18th Airborne Battalion to utilize their assets. Polish engineers laid dozens of TM62M anti-tank mines within the obstacle belts created by the Sappers, which greatly enhanced the obstacle's effectiveness. These obstacles were then integrated into D Co., 2-503 IN BN's engagement area, and aided in their success of destroying multiple enemy vehicles and heavy tanks.

"This was my first time interacting with fellow NATO engineers and I have to say that they impressed me," said Sgt. Nelson Galarza, squad leader with B Co., 54th BEB. "They showed initiative and motivation in wanting to integrate their skills and expertise to help accomplish the mission."

The relationships forged between the Polish and U.S. combat engineers in Exercise Pantera 2016 established a strong foundation to build on in the future during Operation Atlantic Resolve-North, currently ongoing in Poland and the Baltic states.

"From learning of anti-handling devices to the complexity of using electrically initiated demolitions, I know that this exercise left a significant impact on our Sappers," Pena said.

The 173rd Airborne Brigade, based in Vicenza, Italy, is the Army Contingency Response Force in Europe, and is capable of projecting forces to conduct a full range of military operations across the United States European, Central and Africa Command areas of responsibility within 18 hours. The "Sky Soldiers" of B Co., 54th BEB will remain in the Baltics over the next three months in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve, a U.S. led effort in Eastern Europe that demonstrates U.S. commitment to the collective security of NATO and dedication to enduring peace and stability in the region.