By Sharilyn Wells/ParaglideFebruary 17, 2012
FORT BRAGG, N.C. - In the late 80s, under the darkness of night, two engineers dropped into a hostile environment in Grenada. Their job was to prepare a flight landing strip for a force entry airborne operation to offer more in support of Operation Just Cause. With no equipment and obstacles all around, the two engineers hotwired a bulldozer they found on the strip and were able to clear for a successful airborne operation into the country.
Hotwiring heavy equipment and clearing obstacles off an airfield aren't the only skills engineers acquire, they also repair, create and secure airfields in hostile environments -- usually at night.
The 20th Engineer Brigade showcased these capabilities and their equipment during their forcible entry capabilities demonstration, Feb. 10, on Holland Drop Zone. Fort Bragg senior leaders, including Brig. Gen. Christian Juneau, Fort Bragg deputy commander, attended the event leading up to the installation's weeklong joint operational access exercise.
"The intent for this demonstration was to develop leadership abilities and to sync it with the JOAX," explained Maj. Coby Short, 20th Eng. Bde. operations officer. "It was about a four month planning coordination across Fort Bragg. With all the units involved, it's definitely a team fight to fully understand this mission and future missions."
Through a narrated demonstration, different engineer units demonstrated their skills in a simulated force entry onto Holland Drop Zone.
After a two-man team jumped into the area, they began to assess the potential airfield for any obstacles. For demonstration purposes, the two-man team found damage and other potential hazards on the FLS.
The 102nd Sapper Company joined the two-man team in clearing the FLS. Armed with mine detectors, they discovered a suspicious package in the middle of the landing strip. After determining it was a mine, the Sapper team detonated the mine safely.
Next, the crater from the detonation, and any others found on the FLS had to be filled in and the soil had to be packed tightly enough for an aircraft to land safely. Using a light airfield repair package, which includes a Bobcat, a loader, a dump truck, an air compressor, and a deployable universal combat earthmover, the engineers quickly worked together preparing the landing strip for operation. With the LARP, engineers can effectively fill multiple craters, up to 20 feet in depth, in less than 12 hours.
"To begin any mission, you need an FLS," explained Lt. Col. John Connor, 20th Eng. Bde. deputy commander. "This is a way to present our capabilities and show what we bring to the fight. This is what we do, we're good at it, and it's a challenge for everyone because of the operational elements involved in today's war."
Juneau agreed and said that engineers play an important role in supporting the nation's global response Forces who are standing by to deploy anywhere in the world -- basically a 911.
"(Engineers are) the initial piece to making a key decision," said Juneau. "(Engineers) deploy all alone until they can effectively clear for an air landing for more support. This is the key element of completing the mission efficiently."
Since 1861, engineers have played a vital role in nearly every major operation in support of the 82nd Airborne Division, XVIII Airborne Corps and special operations.
With engineers deploying to places that include Afghanistan, Iraq, Grenada, Panama and Haiti, they live up to their motto: Ready, Relevant, and Responsive.