By Mollie MillerFebruary 5, 2008
As a chilly rain fell lightly on the fields around Fort Rucker Jan. 24, 40 Soldiers from B Company, 46th Engineer Battalion huddled in bunkers at Molinelli Range and prepared for the their world to explode.
"Fire in the hole. Fire in the hole. Fire in the hole," they called out in a single voice.
And, for a split second, the world around them held its breath.
In a heartbeat, the earth shook and an explosion rocked the Wiregrass.
"This is exhilarating," carpentry/masonry specialist Pvt. Samuel Voss said as smoke from the explosion disappeared into the gray sky. "This is always fun."
Thursday's explosion was just one of several that erupted from Molinelli Range Jan. 23-24 during a Demolition Range Exercise that kicked off the next phase of the engineers' training in preparation for a June deployment to Iraq.
"This training goes back to our basic combat skills and focuses on things that Soldiers need to stay refreshed on," B Co. Commander Capt. Angela Smoot said. "Plus, this is a great morale booster because engineers like to blow things up."
This week's demo range exercise was the first one conducted at Fort Rucker in three years, according to B Co. executive officer Lt. Mandi Breyman.
Personnel changes, a 12-month deployment and additional missions all combined to keep the engineers off the demo range for the extended period of time so the two-day exercise was a welcome change for many of the Soldiers.
"I think it's important the Soldiers get out here to train on the demo range," Smoot said. "We get away from this stuff and then people get nervous about it. This is good, safe training and it needs to be done."
The two-day training was the first trip to a demo range for many of the Fort Rucker-based engineers.
"(The Soldiers) come out and you can tell they are a little scared to touch (the explosives) but after that first blast, they get more confident and more comfortable dealing with what they are doing," Lt. Jeremy Atkinson, officer-in-charge of the demo range, said Jan. 24. "They're having a good time."
Pfc. Jamal Polite, who has been with the company for almost a year, said his first demo range experience was a good one.
"This is very different from what I expected," he said. "Your adrenaline is rushing the whole time and when it goes off, it sends a little charge through your body that I didn't expect."
During the two days of training, the engineers set off a total of 12 explosions. From shape charges that prepared the ground to detonate a crater charge to breeching charges that tore holes through wire obstacles, the Soldiers familiarized themselves with many of the explosive-related tasks they might encounter on the battlefield.
"As engineers, we need to be prepared to perform all engineering functions ... when we operate in someone's battle space," Atkinson said. "It is very common for whatever unit we are supporting to turn to us and ask us to do things such as breeching charges and it is important for all our Soldiers to have an idea how to do it."
Smoot said she was pleased with how well the training went and happy that so many of her Soldiers were able to experience a demo range for the first time.
"Once the explosion is set off and they go look at it and see what happened, they all have a newfound respect for what they do and the explosives," she said. "This is great training Soldiers feel good about doing."