By Sgt. David VermilyeaAugust 16, 2017
VAZIANI, Georgia -- Beads of sweat cascaded down paratroopers' faces and sizzled upon contact with the dry ground of the Georgian desert during Exercise Noble Partner 17.
Sgt. Michael Long's squad from 2nd Platoon, Bravo Company, 54th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 173rd Airborne Brigade moved in a wedge formation along a barren valley, utilizing the military crest, ensuring not to silhouette themselves on the high ground. He tactically pushed his squad to the last covered and concealed position, where they halted while he called up a situational report on the radio, letting higher headquarters know his squad was in position.
Without any instruction, the team leader knew it was time to move up with one of his paratroopers, carrying the eight-foot tall picket stake plastered with M112 C-4 explosive, also known as a Brazier charge. They reached the triple-strand concertina wire obstacle and meticulously laid the charge with a previously calculated time fuse. After yelling, 'burning, burning, burning!' the two paratroopers sprinted back to the berm to rejoin their squad. Following a brief pause, the squad leader belted out, 'fire in the hole, fire in the hole, fire in the hole!' and the Brazier charge discharged an electrifying explosion the minimum safe distance away from Sgt. Long's squad.
"Today we're out here conducting Battle Drill 8 rehearsals, which is breaching a mine or wired obstacle, in preparation to go out to the live fire with Bravo Company (2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade)," said Long's platoon leader, 2nd Lt. Joshua Migliazza.
Engineers typically support infantry operations by clearing a lane for the assault elements to enter through. They pride themselves on working smoothly and efficiently to ensure there are no breaks in the violence of action initiated by the charge and support by fire element, and sustained by the infiltrating troops. They accomplish this through countless rehearsals until every fragment of the mission becomes muscle memory.
"The 173rd has a high operational tempo so we go out and we do Battle Drill 8 once every couple months for weeks at a time," said Long.
"We did it recently in Latvia for Operation Atlantic Resolve," said 2nd platoon sergeant, Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Holland. "So, all the squad leaders are subject matter experts."
The margin of error is small in demolition practices and if calculated wrong, the results could be catastrophically fatal. Each scenario contains a myriad of factors which must be considered carefully due to the inconstant variables associated with armed combat. For a combat engineer, one of the most imperative skills to ensure success is gauging the minimum safe distance with pinpoint precision.
"I make sure the squad understands the minimum safe distance if you have a shield, if you are behind some kind of cover, or have hazardous fragmentation," said Long. "If you're blowing up wire or something similar, there's going to be considerable fragmentation from the explosion."
During their time in Georgia, Bravo Company also had the opportunity to work with other countries and share their knowledge.
Three weeks prior to Noble Partner, the paratroopers instructed Georgian engineers on their tactics, techniques and procedures (TTP's), including engagement area of development, obstacle emplacement and obstacle construction, said Holland. The instruction was very beneficial to the Georgian engineers because they did not have those TTP's in their doctrine.
The pre-training served as the bedrock for the Georgian engineers to build on, and a chance to prepare for a massive international field training exercise where they will work in concert with American and British engineers.
"I'm excited to work with the Georgians," said Holland. "It's always good to do combined-arms live fires to show what our brigade is capable of and build the teamwork necessary for combined operations."
In addition to working with the Georgians, the Sky Soldiers had a unique training opportunity with the British Army's 2nd Battalion, Parachute Regiment, which included swapping weapon systems and getting hands-on experience with the British L85A2 rifle.
"They fired our weapons, we fired theirs," said Holland. "It was interesting because we never used their weapons before."
After the formal instruction, there was also the opportunity to get some practical training in firing the British rifles.
"The majority of time allotted for the unique training experience was reserved for the junior enlisted personnel, because they are the ones out here doing 90 percent of the hard work," said Holland ."We want to make sure that everyone has a unique and rewarding experience."
Whether it is jumping into frigid water in the Baltics or enduring blistering heat in the Georgian steppes, Sky Soldiers always find a way to seize the best training out of every situation while strengthening the bond with their NATO allies and partners.