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Check Point and Base Camp Construction Techniques and Standards
by CPT Frederic A. Drummond

The lethality of modern and third world weapon systems makes the future battlefield an increasingly hostile environment, both in stability and support operations (SASO) and in war. For this reason, a commander should place a high priority on protecting the force.

When instituting force protection, have you ever heard or used any of these excuses?

-- "Don't have the time."

-- "Not enough money or materials."

-- "Don't have enough personnel to fill sandbags."

-- "No need to worry, the engineers will do it."

Soldiers are our most precious assets. We must take the time and money to provide them with the best equipment, technical guidance, and leadership when establishing force protection. Effective force protection programs which consist of both individual skills and collective tasks must be implemented. Since these critical tasks are very perishable, they must be sustained through realistic training and evaluated routinely. Leaders should learn force protection tasks while attending basic and advance institutional training courses. Understanding the basic fundamentals of survivability and general engineering in light- to high-intensity conflict scenarios is absolutely essential for all combat arms and service support leaders.

This article discusses a systemic approach to protecting soldiers and equipment. The examples used were developed and practiced during Operations DESERT SHIELD/STORM and Operation JOINT ENDEAVOR in Bosnia. The article is intended to be conversational and thought provoking and to challenge all leaders to understand the fundamentals of general engineering as it applies to force protection. One has to have an open mind and be creative when working with force protection.


Development of force protection measures begins by educating the chain of command down to the lowest level. Understanding fundamental procedures, such as proper overhead cover requirements, proper emplacement of sand bag revetments, and the capability of the individual or crew protective system, is essential to ensuring system safety. Force protection of troop living areas, headquarters elements, weapon storage areas, and communication assets is a key consideration which must be taken into account when planning any operation.

U.S. combat engineers, in most cases, do not have the time or the soldiers to construct a base camp and implement force protection measures for other units. They normally only assist the maneuver commanders or base camp mayors in formulating force protection plans. Engineers will provide technical and tactical advice and quality control for the emplacement of force protection structures to include earth revetments, wire obstacles, and fighting positions.


During Operation JOINT ENDEAVOR (OJE) a systematic approach was developed and implemented to monitor force protection in Bosnia. At the start of OJE, force protection was first on every commander's mind. However, after the initial thrust of U.S. combat forces into Bosnia, it became apparent that most units had changed their focus to completing missions in support of the peace plan.

Task Force Eagle mandated that each unit use the three tier levels of constructing force protection. The three tier levels were part of 1AD TACSOP and were used during several field exercises prior to the beginning of OJE. Tier-II includes the checkpoint design established by 1st AD Engineer Brigade. The guidelines were briefed, and each unit was expected to meet these standards (METT-T dependent).

Tier I
Triple Standard Concertina around base camp
Pre-Fab fighting positions in place and sandbagged
Check points established

Tier II
Sandbagged protective bunkers

Tier III
Trip Flares
Guard towers installed
Perimeter lighting
Ballistic protection
& a. Fuel farms
& b. Helipads


1. The Base Camp Coordination Team (BCCT) monitored the force protection tiers. This team worked directly for the Assistant Division Commander for Support (ADC-S) and reported their findings monthly.

2. Each engineer battalion was required to report force protection in their assigned sector to the engineer brigade, who would then report to Task Force Eagle. This was a systematic way to approach and monitor a complex mission.

3. During the Persian Gulf War, there were several instances where soldiers were killed by the collapse of improperly designed bunkers. The picture below shows a fighting position that collapsed next to a pre-fabricated constructed fighting position. The fighting position in the background was sandbagged by the tenant unit and inspected by engineers who found it unsafe. Engineers directed the tenant unit to reconstruct the sandbags, resulting in wasted soldier labor that could have otherwise been used elsewhere in the base camp.

A collapsed protective bunker is a command problem. Before a soldier steps into a bunker system, the chain of command must protect troops by ensuring that they:

a. Plan and select fighting position sites.

b. Properly design, construct, and certify IAW FM 5-103, Survivability.

c. Provide the correct construction materials (sandbags/lumber).

d. Plan for maintenance and inspect periodically.

e. Constantly supervise the construction.

f. Get technical advice from engineers as required.

4. During Operation JOINT ENDEAVOR, the Army invested an enormous amount of money into force protection. Commanders were held accountable for their force protection status and were required to brief force protection on a daily basis. In spite of this command attention, units still installed fighting positions, checkpoints, or protective bunkers that were improperly built and unsafe. The picture below illustrates sandbags improperly filled, laid, and tamped into position. This is an accident waiting to happen. The commander should have solved the problem as soon as the first layer of sandbags was placed.

5. When several different types of protective systems appeared over the Task Force Eagle sector, the engineer brigade commander determined that there would be one standard.

a. The standard designs were developed and sent to engineer units and maneuver commanders.

b. Base camp mayors were asked to disassemble all questionable protective systems.

c. Using the "one team, one fight" concept, the engineers built safe, pre-fabricated fighting positions, protective bunkers, and guard bunkers, and provided quality control supervision.

d. Combat engineers, with the assistance of all maneuver commanders and base camp mayors, ordered these protective systems based on their security plan.

e. Engineers delivered protective systems to each base camp and provided technical guidance on the proper sub-grade and emplacement.

f. The base camps provided the manpower to fill, lay and tamp sandbags.

g. Engineers inspected each protective system periodically to ensure the system remained structurally sound and was maintained by the tenant units.

6. From the author's observations during both Operation DESERT SHIELD/STORM and Operation JOINT ENDEAVOR, most soldiers are untrained on the proper fighting position with sandbag revetment construction. Sandbags were not tamped or were laid incorrectly and presented a safety hazard. FM 5-103 should be in the hands of every leader. Understanding the basic fundamentals of sandbagging is a key component of the bunker system.

Displayed below are the protective bunkers located behind the engineer battalion TOC. These bunkers present a neat and uniform appearance. The important thing is not the neat appearance but the fact the load bearing is equally distributed.

7. FM 5-103 describes six steps in sandbagging revetments:

Step 1. Sandbags are turned inside out, if required. (Sandbags that are not turned inside out lose strength.) Sandbags are filled three-fourths full with an earth or dry soil cement mixture with the choke ends tied. The bottom corners of the bags are tucked in after filling.

Step 2. The bottom row of sandbags is constructed by placing all bags as headers.

Step 3. The sandbag wall is built using alternate rows of stretchers and headers with joints broken between courses.

Step 4. The top row of the sandbag wall consists solely of headers.

Step 5. Each sandbag should be tamped in a uniform manner with a flat object (6X6) to force all air pockets out and make the sandbag wall more stable.

Step 6. Constant upkeep is required. If a sandbag is punctured, it must be replaced.

These sandbags were found at a base camp where leaders claimed they had no sandbags to complete their fighting positions!

8. The Task Force Eagle commander made force protection construction the priority for all units due to the underlying threat of terrorism in Bosnia. One engineer task force was tasked with the construction and pre-fabrication of force protection systems for 12 base camps in the Tuzla Valley and other smaller sites throughout Bosnia Herzegovina. Each company was responsible for four base camps, and it became clear that each required large quantities of fighting positions and bunkers. Initially, each company constructed their own positions, but with some camps requiring more than 50 fighting positions alone, it became apparent that a consolidated production site would be more efficient. The task of planning, organizing, and constructing this facility was given to one company of the engineer battalion. The assault and obstacle platoon established a pre-fabricated construction yard on Base Camp Bedrock Bosnia-Herzegovina. This production yard began mass production of force protection systems.

a. The first phase in the building process was to develop the work site. With limited resources available, two general purpose medium tents were used. The construction site was divided into four areas:

b. Each area was run independently and simultaneously.

c. The need for rapidly available, quality force protection required 24-hour operations. Other companies in the Task Force supplied five soldiers each. There were two 12-hour shifts with 15 soldiers per shift.

d. The unit established four teams: (1) Haul team, (2) Rip/cut team, (3) Pre-fab team, and (4) Assembly team. Each team was run by the same NCOIC to ensure critical continuity. The engineer company supplied the same NCO foreman for each of the teams and the other companies rotated soldiers through due to their mission requirements.

e. The material used to construct the fighting positions and bunkers varied significantly. The battalion S4 requested the required lumber but dimensions often varied due to the many suppliers.

(1) The bulk of the cutting and assembly was done in the cutting/pre-fab tents.

(2) The bunkers, due to their size, were assembled outside in the assembly area.

f. Initially the priority went to fighting positions, but as base camps became more secure, personnel bunkers became more important.


Officers and NCOs should receive a class from the engineer team supporting their base camp on the proper emplacement procedures prior to constructing any protective system. During OJE, most leaders had no idea there was a systematic way to lay sandbags, build bunkers, and utilize Hesco-Bastions to augment sandbagging. After OPD/NCOPDs on the subject, there was a noticeable improvement in the placement and uniform appearance and structural soundness of the sandbag revetments.

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