FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — Rounding out the Army’s three engineering disciplines, combat engineers, also known as “Sappers,” enable the maneuverability of forces by applying mobility, counter-mobility, and survivability engineering skills on a battlefield so that all can accomplish their mission.
Sappers learn to be proficient at building bridges and roads, laying or clearing minefields, conducting demolitions, and constructing or repairing airfields.
“One of the greatest things about being a 12B is being able to [enable] the capacity of so many other MOSs,” said Sgt. 1st Class James Hubler, a combat engineering instructor. “Combat engineers work with all assets and augment Army forces.”
Mobility operations use a combination of combat, general, and geospatial engineering capabilities to allow a commander to gain and maintain a position of advantage against an enemy.
“Combat engineers handle anything that has to do with explosives,” said Sgt. 1st Class Andres Herrera, a cadre working with the Engineer Basic Officer Leaders Course. “Explosives are used anytime we need to breach, or when we need to take out an obstacle. We do anything we can to help out in a fight and make sure our infantry forces can make it across.”
In support of counter-mobility operations, Sappers place obstacles to slow, direct, or prevent the movement of enemy forces. In addition, counter-mobility operations help to increase the time for target acquisition and weapon effectiveness.
Lastly, 12B’s sustainment warfighting function provides support and services to ensure freedom of action. Engineers contribute by constructing base camps, ammunition holding areas, and revetments or other types of hardening of distribution facilities and by clearing lines of communication.
To become an enlisted combat engineer, Soldiers must complete an intense five-week training regimen, covering a wide range of basic-level 12B tasks. Each training task is designed to reinforce the three core capacities employed throughout the Sapper career field.
“During training, Soldiers see how it’s not just about being a Soldier, but how they have a specific role on the battlefield. That role is to support maneuver elements,” Hubler said.
“We try to make training as realistic and as difficult as possible. We introduce stressors because obviously, you can never simulate what’s going to happen on the battlefield because war is hectic and unpredictable.”
After graduation, Soldiers will move on to their first assignments, but training will continue, Hubler said. Depending on the individual, it could take six months to a year for a Soldier to be fully integrated into their unit and understand their company-specific mission.
“If a young person comes to us to be an Army engineer, they’re going to learn some skill, and they’re going to be great at it. They’re going to learn to be great members of teams and participate in a group effort to make something very important and bigger than themselves,” said Col. Martin D. Snider, commander of the 1st Engineer Brigade.
MODERNIZING ARMY ENGINEERING
The Army engineering career field has been working hard to stay in line with the Army’s efforts to modernize the force, said Brig. Gen. Robert Whittle, Engineer School Commandant. The key to modernization, he said, starts by connecting future concepts to the Army’s engineering priorities.
For example, today’s floating bridges are still being constructed by Soldiers. However, with all the improvements made to technology, Whittle said he could see floating bridges assembling themselves at some point in the future.
“Some may argue, well that’s a long time in the future. Well, what’s the date? 2040 or 2050 because it’s definitely coming and we need to be prepared,” the general said.
In addition to preparing for future concepts, Army engineers have supported improvement efforts to the Joint Assault Bridge and the M1150 Assault Breacher Vehicle, Whittle said. The JAB, for instance, provides the Army with gap-crossing capability to cross wet or dry gaps, improving the Army’s ability to maneuver on the battlefield.
In addition to helping make the Army more mobile, modernization within the Army’s combat engineers also helps protect the force, Whittle said.
“We’ve done tremendous work in the counter-IED fight,” Whittle said. “The Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles were fielded during the Iraq war and were the first route-clearance vehicles that combat engineers were using to take IEDs off the battlefield.”
“We have had a lot of modernization that’s occurred, and we certainly need to continue down that path,” the general said.
(Editor’s note: In support of Army Engineer Week, this is the last story of a four-part series about Army engineers and their profession.)
Pictured above: Combat engineers assemble a series of explosives during demolitions training Jan. 18, 2018 at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Combat engineers learn to be proficient at building bridges and roads, laying or clearing minefields, conducting demolitions, and constructing or repairing airfields.