Soldiers with the 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division conducted a massive two-week combined arms live-fire exercise, or CALFEX, as part of the units preparations for an early-2013 rotation at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif.
One of the key elements in the brigade’s arsenal is its company of combat engineers – Co. C, Special Troops Battalion, 2nd ABCT. On a situational training lane during the CALFEX, the engineers provided the means to breach obstacles that stood in the path of maneuver forces, like Bradley Fighting Vehicles and Abrams tanks.
“The breach lane is critical because it’s the essence of combined arms warfare,” said Maj. Christopher Danbeck, 2nd ABCT operations officer. “You’re setting conditions with ground maneuver forces to secure the objective, you’ve got artillery that’s being used to obscure the objective, and then you’ve got the engineers that move in to reduce the obstacles.”
As a relatively small part of a larger whole, the engineers had to work effectively with outside units to accomplish their mission.
“The importance of this for us is that we are integrating with other companies – today it was a tank company – so you had them in there, along with an infantry platoon, so we’re all integrated together,” said 1st Lt. Joseph Dial, platoon leader, Co. C, STB. “What’s great for us is moving and communicating with everyone else.”
Dial’s platoon maneuvered initially at the rear of the formation as it advanced toward a simulated mission objective – a small urban cluster at Fort Riley’s training areas. When the advancing assault company found a wire obstacle blocking its path, it was the engineers’ time to shine.
“Once we got there, we marked the lane with flags and signs – you start off (marking) with a funnel, nice and wide, so the (assaulting) unit can see it,” Dial said.
“You do a left-hand route, because the drivers are usually on the left-hand side so they can see the funnel.”
While part of the company marked the safe route through the obstacle, another section was busy destroying it – using Bangalore torpedoes – tubular explosive charges – which allow engineers to reduce obstacles from a relatively safe distance.
To prepare for its role in the CALFEX, the company has been out in the field week after week honing their skills.
“We have a specialized skill that everyone needs, and we’re proficient at it,” said Pfc. Ashton Davis, engineer, Co. C, STB. “We’ve been out in the field off and on every week, and if our specific platoon isn’t out there, someone else is out there, then they come back and we go out.”
That kind of repetition served the unit well.
“Rehearsals are a big thing,” said Spc. Charles Watt, engineer, Co. C, STB. “Rehearsals are always important to do, since they get you better at what you do and what you need to be doing when it counts.”
Once the obstacle was destroyed and the route through the breach was clearly marked, Soldiers with the 1st Battalion, 63rd Armor Regiment, 2nd ABCT moved forward toward their objective, as Davis and Pfc. Damien Connor waved them through the breach. After the objective was captured, the engineers went back and retrieved their marking equipment to get ready for another iteration.
“Paying attention to detail is key,” Connor said. “You don’t want to slip up and do something wrong. I like to think of it like we are actually deployed, take it that seriously and always stay motivated.”
Seeing the immense combat power that stalled because of the obstacle and the speed with which it passed through to the objective once it was clear was a reminder of the power of engineers to provide mobility to friendly units.
“Our importance as even a small unit, seeing how crucial it is that we do our jobs and do it quickly because we could shut down a whole movement, and it would grind to a halt (if we don’t),” Connor said.”
By Sgt. Daniel Stoutamire
Sgt. Daniel Stoutamire | 2ND ABCT
Pfc. Ashton Davis, foreground, combat engineer, Co. C, STB, waves an Abrams tank crew with the 1st Bn., 63rd Armor Regt. through a breach in a concertina-wire obstacle Dec. 11 during 2nd ABCT’s combined arms live-fire exercise.