Combat Engineers Training Blows Up
Story by Pvt. Avery Cunningham
FORT DRUM, N.Y. - A Soldier crouches down in the safety of a bunker; in his hands he
holds an igniter with a pin on one end and a wire running out the other.
He shouts, “Fire in the hole!” three times, and pulls the pin. A loud, resounding boom
shakes the ground, and the air is filled with falling pieces of dirt and dust. At the other
end of the wire a trench resides in the ground where the explosive bandolier once was.
“Yeah, you get a little nervous, but its fun every time,” said Pfc. Benjamin Irwin, a
combat engineer with A Company, 86th Brigade Special Troops Battalion. “There’s
never the same feeling no matter how many times you do it”
The combat engineers of A Company, work hard to set up explosives for practicing
demolition skills needed for removing obstacles in theater. The engineers also
participated in a mock war to practice combat operations during annual training at Fort
Drum, New York, June, 2015. The 86th IBCT (MTN) participated in Multi-Echelon
Integrated Brigade Training as a means of maintaining its combat readiness through its
entire Army Force Generation Ready Year.
“We do a lot of demolition work, clearing of mines,” said Irwin. “We do a lot of work
with the infantry, going on rucks, glass houses [simulated structures], doing room
clearing, stuff like that.”
During the training event the combat engineers participated in war drills by clearing the
way for the infantry and assisting the artillery.
“We just had a battle simulation, actually, where we put ourselves into a combat
environment,” said 2nd Lt. Michael Burkeen, an officer with the equipment section of
A/86th BSTB. “We had our sapper platoon go out and work with the infantry. Our
equipment section went out, and we dug in a bunch of howitzers, built up a berm for
them, for their protection and concealment.”
All military occupations add something to the force, and combat engineers use their
unique set of skills to assist other Soldiers. Their contribution to the Army is important,
and annual training events are essential, so they can improve their skills.
“Engineers clear the way!”, is a popular mantra for combat engineers, who use their demolition skills and equipment to clear away obstacles.
“In the real world, if you get deployed, especially since we’re out with the infantry so
much, you’re clearing the way for them, whether it be wire obstacles, walls, what have
you, we’re able to get them through whatever they need to by using these explosives,”
Combat engineers main duties are to build fighting positions, place and detonate
explosives, clear routes, and also detect land mines.
“So, for what we do, being able to get that done and do our best to keep Soldiers safe over there, that really means a lot to me,” said Irwin.
The annual training that they participate in is important, because they get to do more
training and train more in depth.
“It helps us prepare because what we our going to actually be doing, and it puts us in
an environment that we need to be in, rather than being at our armory where it is just
our company,” said Burkeen. “It helps us prepare, work with other companies, work
with battalion, work with brigade and set ourselves up in a more ideal situation, more
Training at places like Fort Drum affords the engineers the ability to practice all the
demolition they’d normally get to do as part of their job.
“It’s good being here, because we can basically use all the explosives we need,” said
Irwin. “So, when we got 40 pound cratering charges, it’s good if we come here,
because if we just train at Jericho [Camp Ethan Allen, Vermont], which we get to do for
the rest of the year, then we have a 5 pound max, so we really don’t get to get the full
bang for our buck besides when we come here. “
The engineers practice demolition at annual training that could be catastrophic without proper training.
“This is one of our main jobs that we do, so to be able to keep up with what we’re
doing, it’s definitely important,” said Irwin. This stuff is tricky and obviously dangerous.
One little thing wrong and we’re not there anymore.”
The only way for engineers to arrive at a point of high efficiency, without tragedies is for them to practice their field.
“We have a job to do, everybody here has a job to do,” said Burkeen. “Coming out here makes us way, way better at our job. Coming out here, moving to Fort Drum, moving to wherever we go to, it gives us an opportunity to get better. We’re much better at our job. Every time we leave here we’re much better off.”