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ENGINEERS IN CLOSE COMBAT
by CPT Otis Cagle

"Combat engineers are combat-arms soldiers. When employed in the forward TF area, the Engineer Company often employs close-combat skills, using fire and movement to accomplish its engineer mission.

On the modern battlefield, the enemy has the capability to detect, move toward, and engage engineer forces quickly without regard to their location. Consequently, all engineers are organized, trained, and equipped to fight and destroy the enemy. Combat engineers also have the secondary mission of reorganizing into infantry units and fighting as infantry."

--FM 5-71-2, Armored Task Force Engineer Combat Operations

Although FM 5-71-2 states that engineers are organized, trained, and equipped to fight and destroy the enemy, observations of engineer units training at the NTC would indicate that they are not trained for close combat. It is the author's opinion that there is something terribly wrong with current training standards. A few observations and issues follow:

1. Observer/controllers (O/Cs) have rarely witnessed an effective call-for-fire mission executed at the engineer platoon level.

2. Engineer battalion commanders sometimes do not allow live rounds to be issued to their sappers during the rotation. The proficiency of those platoons and squads at executing suppression, obscuration, security, reduction (SOSR) and attack missions at their level is questionable.

3. Range cards, sector sketches, threat briefings, observation posts (OPs), and CDE (chemical detection equipment) employment are too often ignored at the engineer company level.

4. Light infantry units rarely track the engineer platoon in the combat power roll-up.

5. The light engineer platoon is NEVER considered during allocations for small arms, and units have turned in demolitions that were palletized in deployment configurations because they did not know who should get them.

6. Light platoon leaders seldom know if they have a "go to war" basic load. They are not able to answer questions about quantities of small arms, demolitions, or in what order the pallets will arrive.

Let's get back to our training roots!

"Battle focus is the process used by commanders to direct the training of the force toward the priority wartime mission. The results of the process are the identification of critical tasks and training objectives required by their wartime mission(s). Battle focus sets the stage for units to train as they intend to fight. It is founded on the principle that all training must relate to the wartime mission, thereby giving the organization a shared direction. Battle focus serves as the focal point for planning, resourcing, executing, and evaluating training."

--All ARTEP Manuals, page 1-2, para 1-5

This is a very simple but direct description from an ARTEP manual. These manuals are essentially the bedrock on which the Army lays the foundation for lethality on the modern battlefield. "Train as we fight" is not a new concept. However, it would seem to be foreign or quite rare given the trends that consistently surface on any given rotation at a CTC. These events may signal a potentially deadly epidemic of not adhering to published training standards. The road to healing lies in the basic training principles found in ARTEP manuals:

  • Train as you fight! Units fight as they are trained. Soldiers and units must perform to established standards that are enforced by leaders.

  • Make leaders the primary trainers. Leader involvement is essential to training and battlefield success.

  • Train using Army doctrine. The leader is expected to know and train in accordance with Army doctrine. Mission training plans (MTPs) and supporting materials conform to Army doctrine.

  • Use performance-oriented training. Units become efficient in the performance of critical tasks and missions by practicing them. Soldiers learn by doing. A unit's training must involve performance of tasks with coaching and critiquing by the leaders as part of after-action reviews (AARs).

  • Use mission-oriented training. Training must ensure critical wartime mission proficiency.

  • Train to sustain proficiency. The cornerstone of the ARTEP is the concept of sustaining proficiency. The unit must be prepared to go to war on short notice. To sustain proficiency, the unit must train-evaluate-train.

  • Train to challenge. Challenging training builds competence and confidence by developing and honing skills. It inspires excellence by fostering initiative, enthusiasm, and eagerness to learn.

  • Train to fight and support as a combined arms and services team. Combined arms proficiency develops only when teams are habitually associated in training exercises. Cross attachment of units and routine employment of the full spectrum of combat, combat support, and combat service support functions must be regularly practiced.

The only way to maintain a combat-ready force, given adequate training funds or not, is to train it to be just that: a combat ready force.


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