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National Guard’s Regional Training Institute instructs combat engineers
National Guard’s Regional Training Institute instructs combat engineers

National Guard soldiers reclassifying to become combat engineers construct a 30-meter, triple-standard, concertina wire obstacle at Camp Crowder.
NEOSHO, Mo. (May 11, 2009) — Known as the “home of the engineers,” Fort Leonard Wood's Army Engineer School trains soldiers for many different engineering tasks ranging from construction to demolition to dectection of buried mines and other explosives. Reclassification within the engineer specialities is also possible, and a class of 24 National Guard soldiers completed the combat engineer military occupational specialty reclassification training earlier this summer with the 1st Battalion, Engineer Training Battalion, 140th Regiment Missouri Regional Training Institute of Fort Leonard Wood at Camp Crowder.

At the two-week course, soldiers were taught a wide variety of skills, including all aspects of demolition, creating and removing wire obstacles, identifying and reacting to explosive hazards, landmine detection and removal, urban breaching tactics, and military operations on urbanized terrain.

“This is the very basics of what you need to know to be a combat engineer,” said Staff Sgt. Scott Longar, institute instructor.

One soldier in the class, Master Sgt. Kannon John, of the Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 35th Engineer Brigade at Fort Leonard Wood, is excited about making the switch from the construction side of engineering to the combat side.

“It’s more relevant to the fight that you see in Afghanistan and Iraq right now because combat engineers are the guys going out and searching for improvised explosive devices and destroying them,” John said. “A lot of times, they do it without the support of explosive ordnance disposal and resources like that. We’re learning first-hand the techniques and tactics you would use to not only emplace explosives and obstacles, but also how to defeat them so we can maintain the upper hand on being mobile in theater.”

Working with the explosives and the demolitions training portion of the class were generally each soldier’s favorite part.

In the field, the demolition training has several missions, Longar said.

“In today’s environment, that knowledge is used to deal with unexploded ordnance and improvised explosive devices,” he said. “In different theaters of combat that we may encounter, it can be used in breaching enemy obstacles and eliminating enemy equipment.”

Spc. Eric Phillippe, of the 1141st Engineer Company (Sapper) in Kansas City, said the booby trap placement and neutralization was his favorite part of the course.

“Just having the ability to recognize a threat and the means and knowledge to be able to counter it — take it out of the equation — is interesting,” he said.

With a previous military occupational specialty as a carpenter engineer, Phillippe said some of the training was refresher, but he also learned a lot.

“A lot of the engineer ideas are all the same across the board,” said Phillippe, who lives in St. Joseph. “This is just more specialized from more of a noncombat to a combat situation. It’s a lot of good, basic skills.”

With his unit facing a future deployment, Phillippe hopes to put what he’s learned to good use in theater.

“We’ve been given examples of what to look for — some of the enemy’s current methods of deploying improvised explosive devices and booby traps,” Phillippe said. “I have a very good idea of what to keep my eyes open for, which not only helps save my own hide, but the rest of my platoon or squad.”

Sgt. Calvin Logan, of the 203rd Engineer Battalion in Joplin, said the instruction with demolitions has allowed him to be more secure when handling explosives.

“It gives you a lot more confidence when dealing with demolitions,” he said.

After the class is over, Logan, who lives in Monett, said he would share what he learned with his unit.

“The course is going to teach me to train soldiers effectively and use our resources to full effect,” Logan said.

Sgt. Brian Lee, 1138th Engineer Company (Sapper) of Farmington, is the supply sergeant within his unit. He expects the training to help him better understand the needs of his fellow soldiers.

“When engineers come up to me and say, ‘Hey, I need this piece of equipment,’ I’m going to know what they are talking about,” Lee said.

It also has helped him be more conscious of what to expect from improvised explosive devices.

“I’ve made two trips to Iraq already and both trips have been route clearance with engineers,” said Lee, who lives in Fredericktown.

But he still picked up new terminology, tactics and procedures from the course.

“So the training is going to beneficial as far as awareness and knowing what to look for,” Lee said.

One exercise the team conducted was the construction and emplacement of wire barriers.

“Each squad constructed a 30-meter, triple-standard, concertina obstacle,” Longar said. “These obstacles are used most of the time in perimeter defense. They can be used to route or slow an enemy or direct an enemy into a kill zone.

“This basic knowledge will allow these soldiers to build any number of obstacles that will divert the enemy to where we want them to be.”

John was selected to lead the construction of one of the team’s obstacles.

“I had a good team out there and they did a good job of putting up their obstacle,” John said. “I like being in charge of soldiers. That’s why I became a noncommissioned officer.”

Sgt. James Schumann, of the Forward Support Company, 203rd Engineer Battalion in Joplin, has been in theater and constructed wire obstacles while there. The exercise, however, gave him a much better understanding of its construction and use.

“It was much more integral than I ever imagined,” said Schumann, who lives in Joplin. “We’ve set it up in Iraq numerous times, but without the proper training, I didn’t realize just the bare essentials to make it mission ready rather than just stringing it out and calling it good.

“Understanding why we’re doing something rather than just doing it is key for any soldier when it comes to mission-essential tasks.”

Logan said had never worked with concertina wire.

“The instructors made it real easy and it was real simple,” he said. “It is great training and the instructors are very knowledgeable. Overall, we met the mission objective.”

The most difficult part of the exercise for Logan was making sure everything was spaced properly.

“Once we laid one row of concertina wire down, the rest was pretty easy,” Logan said.

Phillippe didn’t expect there to be much to constructing a wire obstacle.

“That was an eye-opener,” he said. “It’s not that entailed, but there are certain steps that you have to follow in order to make life a lot easier on you.”

Lee found it challenging and said he learned the importance of working on the project as a group.

“It’s tough,” Lee added. “It’s actually pretty difficult to set up as far as the manual labor. It definitely takes teamwork — it’s not something somebody could set up on their own. But as long as you’ve got your team, it’s not as difficult. You can’t do anything alone as an engineer.”

Overall, Lee was pleased with the quality of his instructors.

“Some classes you go to, they are mostly reading out of books,” Lee said. “These guys actually know what they are doing and have done the jobs that they are teaching us. That’s very beneficial, getting some of that knowledge that is not in textbooks. It’s been a good course.”

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