Although their name originated centuries ago with the French translation for “trench digger,” today’s combat engineers, called Sappers, have specialized skills that far exceed the origins of their profession.
U.S. combat engineers in Alpha and Bravo companies, 236th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 30th Armored Brigade Combat Team, North Carolina Army National Guard, conducted a live-fire exercise with M2 Bradley Fighting Vehicles (BFVs) and demolitions near Fort Bliss, Texas, Sept. 26.
“This exercise builds on the skills of the Soldiers, including gunnery and dismount crews,” said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Patrick Henderson, commander, 236th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 30th Armored Brigade Combat Team. “The event is associated with the mobility piece for the Armored Brigade Combat Team, and our Sappers ensuring they can maneuver unimpeded.”
During the exercise, four M2 BFVs convoyed through desert terrain, then dispersed as they approached an obstacle. Two M2s moved outward and provided suppressive fire with machine guns, while the other vehicles stopped to allow the Sappers to dismount, use smoke to screen the area, then emplace demolitions.
Staff Sgt. Brennar Goree, a squad leader in Alpha company, 236th Brigade Engineer Battalion, said the live-fire event simulated an enemy attempting to stop or divert maneuvering units. The six Sapper dismounts breached the obstacle using detonating cord. With a loud boom and flash of flame, the blockade was destroyed.
“The major tasks of the combat engineers are to provide mobility, counter-mobility and survivability support,” said Goree. “Sappers are the ones who help the brigade get to a location by defeating obstacles, or by constructing obstacles to prevent the enemy from getting to a location.”
The unit has extensive experience from previous deployments, Henderson said, and the more senior Soldiers shared that knowledge with the junior Sappers.
“We are ensuring they are emplacing demolitions correctly, have knots tied properly, hooking-up initiators correctly, and keeping safety paramount,” said Goree. “It’s always great when the Soldiers can get out and showcase their skills. Sappers lead the way.”
The unit is mobilized to support Operation Spartan Shield, joining other units from the North Carolina, South Carolina, Ohio and West Virginia Army National Guard, to support the 38th Infantry Division and Task Force Spartan in the Middle East.