FORT POLK, La. — Elements of the 1st Battalion, 509th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division and 46th Engineer Battalion spent July 15 and 16 at the Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk’s Peason Ridge training area learning a new way to employ abatises.
An abatis is a field fortification used to slow the advance of an enemy, typically by felling trees in a criss/cross pattern across avenues of approach. The defensive measure has been used since before the time of the Roman Empire with varying degrees of success.
Capt. Aaron R. Scherffius, JRTC Operations Group Task Force 5, said he and his team researched ways to improve the abatis technique since opposing forces were producing larger and stronger vehicles. What they came up with is a method often used by carpenters: A tongue and groove cut — along with the addition of barbed wire — which make the abatises more formidable.
Task Force 5 works with brigade engineer battalions that come through JRTC.
“The first day of training is an introduction to the abatis obstacle, and the difference between a deliberate abatis and an expedient abatis,” he said. “The difference is in the method of emplacement: Field expedient uses explosives, while deliberate — which we will teach today — places the abatis with chainsaws.”
Soldiers received instruction on how to select the correct avenue of approach, tree selection, where to fell the trees for maximum impact, and how to cut a tongue and groove. After receiving demonstration cuts by Task Force 5 staff, Soldiers were given the opportunity to apply what they learned by creating an abatis.
On the second day of training, Soldiers were taught how to use barbed wire to further strengthen the abatis. Afterwards, they learned how to breach the abatises with mechanical methods instead of explosives.
Scherffius said the idea for teaching the new abatis method came from observations made on rotational units during their rotations at JRTC.
“The engineers, when they come through here, it never fails, they will want to put in abatis, which is fine,” he said. “But when we start asking specifics, their confidence begins to break down and we quickly find out that most of them have never done this (worked with abatises) before and have limited knowledge.”
Scherffius said his team conducted research on Army doctrine as relating to abatis and found there wasn’t a lot of guidance. But Army doctrine did recommend the trees remain attached to their stumps, providing more strength, which the tongue and groove cut, does.
“We wanted to fill in the knowledge gab, and if all works as planned, we’d like to make this training a part of future JRTC rotations,” he said.
Sgt. 1st Class Chad Withee, 3rd BCT, 10th Mtn Div, said the training has made him think.
“I like it,” he said. “We’ve done abatis before, but this is a neat way to make sure it’s going to stay in place and cost the enemy more time.”
Spc. Evan Paulin, 3rd BCT, 10th Mtn Div, said he enjoyed the fact that the abatis technique taught in the training was more cerebral than physical.
“Our job mostly deals with survivability, maneuverability and accountability,” he said. “Being able to use your brain before having to use your fists, piques my interest more.
“If I can deter the enemy from starting a fight, I’ve won half the battle. I get to use a scalpel instead of a hammer.”
Spc. Antonio Joyner, 46th Eng Bn, said learning how to slow down the enemy is important.
“If we don’t have a lot of equipment, just a chainsaw, we can still be effective in throwing up an obstacle for the enemy,” he said. “That way they couldn’t use the road we blocked to come up and attack us.”
Pfc. Isaias Revis, 1 Bn, 509th Inf Reg, said their training was beneficial — especially for his and the other Geronimos.
“I’ve never touched a chainsaw,” he said. “I’ve never seen any of these types of cuts. It’s really helpful and I can see how it will slow the enemy and make them look for another pathway.”
Revis said he envisions the Geronimos — the Army’s premiere OPFOR that call the JRTC and Fort Polk home — using the abatises during rotations.