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Combat Engineer / Sapper

The Corps of Engineers is a Combat Arms Branch which also has combat support and combat service support roles. Missions encompass military and civil engineering and the related planning, organization, training, operation, and development. Engineer officers are responsible for training and leading troops in combat; topographic, and construction engineering operations; facilities maintenance; civil works programs; and leading Engineer troops in infantry combat operations.

Sappers are combat engineers who advance with the front-line infantry, and they have fought in every war in American history. For example, they played a vital role in securing Omaha Beach on D-Day, and that incident is faithfully re-created in Saving Private Ryan. The invading Soldiers were unable to advance through the beach obstacles, and were pinned down by the German machine guns. A group of combat engineers crawled forward under heavy fire. Despite their casualties, they assembled a bangalore torpedo (a long tube filled with explosives), slid it under a barbed wire obstacle, and blew the obstacle apart.

The term Sapper can be traced back as far as 1501 to the siege of Rouen during the French Wars. Sappers, throughout time, have proven their abilities to build and repair fortifications, execute field works, and reform the countryside with demolitions and heavy equipment to weaken the enemy and lead the infantry to victory on the battlefield.

Combat engineers are at the vanguard. When conducting combat operations in the close battle, they must be prepared to fight and employ their combat skills, using fire and maneuver to accomplish their engineer mission. On today's battlefield, the enemy can detect and engage engineers quickly, regardless of their location. Consequently, all engineers are organized, trained, and equipped to fight and destroy the enemy. Combat engineers' secondary mission is to reorganize into infantry units and fight as infantry.

Mechanized combat-engineer squads are organized around the armored personnel carrier (APC) and are armed with an array of rifles, squad automatic rifles, grenade launchers, light and heavy machine guns, and antitank (AT) weapons. The squads carry an array of demolition materials, configured into satchel and combat demolition charges, and are able to attack rapidly and violently with demolitions as well as with fire. In the platoon, they carry a basic load of conventional mines sufficient to emplace a minefield quickly, which they can defend if necessary.

Wheeled combat engineers are organized and equipped much the same as mechanized combat engineers. The major difference is the squad carrier, which is a 5-ton dump truck. On dismounting, the squad and platoon are trained to function much like a dismounted infantry organization in accomplishing their engineer mission.

All engineer squad carriers, mechanized or wheeled, are hindered by trailers except when moving as a part of a combined-arms formation. The squad must drop its trailer before it can effectively maneuver or employ mounted fire and movement. A trailer allows a squad to carry the quantities of demolitions and mines that give it close-combat power.

Light engineers move on foot, carrying critical tools and equipment as well as demolition materials. As squads or platoons, light engineers move as a part of the light-infantry formation. Capable of using fire and movement techniques, they also contribute demolition and fire to the close-combat fight.

Combat (heavy) and topographic engineer units are armed primarily with rifles, with a limited number of crew-served weapons. They are not organized to move within combined-arms formations or to apply fire and maneuver. They are capable of engaging in close combat with fire and movement.

Combat Engineering includes those engineering tasks that assist the tactical and/or operational commander to "shape" the battlespace by enhancing mobility creating the space and time necessary to generate mass and speed while protecting the force, and denying mobility and key terrain to the enemy. These tasks include breaching, bridging, and emplacement of obstacles to deny mobility to the enemy.

Breaching operations are conducted to allow maneuver despite the presence of obstacles. Engineers within the breach force are allocated with the reduction assets necessary to clear mines, nonexplosive obstacles, and small gaps. Scouts, engineers, or other recon assets are also capable of finding local bypasses or existing lanes in the obstacle system. Obstacle breaching is the employment of a combination of tactics and techniques to advance an attacking force to the far side of an obstacle that is covered by fire. It is perhaps the single, most difficult combat task a force can encounter. Understanding breaching theory is the first step to understanding breaching tactics. Breaching is a synchronized combined-arms operation under the control of a maneuver commander. Breaching operations begin when friendly forces detect an obstacle and begin to apply the breaching fundamentals, and they end when battle handover has occurred between follow-on forces and a unit conducting the breaching operation.

Bulling through or forcing through is not a breaching operation. Bulling through is a decision made when a commander must react immediately to extricate his force from an untenable position within an obstacle and no other breaching operations are possible. When a force is in a minefield receiving fires and taking heavy losses, the commander may decide to immediately bull through the minefield rather than withdraw or reduce the obstacle.

The engineer unit is designed to provide demolition and breaching capabilities to the combined-arms team. The engineer unit also can employ direct-fire weapons systems to aid in employing demolitions and breaching assets. Regardless of the mission, armored engineer vehicles are combat vehicles and provide a significant contribution to the combat power of the entire formation. The combat-engineer vehicle (CEV) in heavy divisions is also used in the assault. With its demolition gun, machine guns, and dozer blade, the CEV is extremely effective in close combat during the final stages of overrunning an objective.

Combat engineers supervise, serve, or assist as a member of a team, squad, section, or platoon; provide combat engineering support to combat forces; and operate Combat Engineer Vehicles, Armored Vehicle Launched Bridges, and Armored Combat Earthmover. The Product Manager, Combat Engineer / Material Handling Systems' (PM CE/MHE) mission is to lead the acquisition of Combat Engineer and Material Handling systems to provide soldiers with equipment that fulfills their wartime and peacetime operational requirements.

Engineer officers plan and execute missions relating to engineer support on the battlefield; to include topographic missions, facilities and housing support at military installations. Additionally, the Engineer officer serves as the Army's component to the Department of Defense (DOD) team charged with mapping, charting, geodesy, and military geographic responsibilities, supports military construction programs for Army, Air Force, and other DOD agencies; directs a complex civil works program and undertakes special tasks which range from advancing engineer technology to exporting engineer expertise to friendly nations.

The Combat Engineer provides support on the battlefield as a member of the Combined Arms Team. Tasks include enhancement of friendly mobility, impeding enemy mobility (counter-mobility), enhancement of friendly force survivability, performance of general engineer missions, and, when required, to fight as infantry. Combat Engineers command combat engineer units, and direct or exercise staff supervision over the planning and implementation of the engineer support of the tactical plan. In peacetime, Combat Engineers train for their battlefield functions, and undertake a variety of special tasks that ranges from keeping combat engineer technology current to exporting battlefield engineer expertise to friendly nations.

Entry level crew members perform basic combat construction. Operates various light or heavy engineer wheeled vehicles. Operates or serves as crewmember on a combat engineer vehicle, armored vehicle launch bridge, or an armored combat earthmover while participating in combat mobility, countermobility, and survivability operations. Prepares and installs priming and firing systems for demolition and explosives. Arms, disarms, and installs anti-personnel and anti-tank mines. Locates mines by visual means or by using a mine detector. Recognizes and neutralizes booby traps, friendly and threat mines, and firing devices.

Skill Level 2 performs duties in preceding skill level, supervises lower grade soldiers and provides technical guidance to the soldiers in the accomplishment of their duties. Directs and assists in the operation of engineer wheeled or tracked vehicles. Supervises and/or operates the ACE. Directs and assists in launching and retrieval of an armored vehicle launch bridge. Boresights, determines zero settings, and fires the combat engineer vehicle weapon systems. Assists in performance of organizational maintenance of vehicle and armament system components. Directs the construction of fighting positions and wire entanglements. Controls fire team movements. Places explosives and clears misfires. Directs a mine-clearing line charge loading team. Directs minefield marking party and dispensing operation of mine scattering systems. Conducts reconnaissance operations, determines limiting slopes, curves, stream velocity, and gap widths.

On the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg, the Union commander, General George Meade, sent his engineer, Gouvernor Warren, to examine his left flank. Both Meade and Warren were concerned about that part of the Union lines because of Confederate activity. Upon arriving on a small elevation called Little Round Top, Warren discovered that the hill was unoccupied except for a few signal men. In the distance, he could see advancing Confederate infantry. He immediately sent messengers to nearby commanders and urged them to move quickly to fortify the hill. Ultimately, Vincent's brigade of the V Corps moved up. The Union forces arrived only minutes before the Confederate troops. In a desperate battle, which raged for several hours, Union infantry and artillery successfully defended the position against repeated Confederate charges. Had the Confederates taken Little Round Top, they could have turned the Union flank and rolled up the Union lines. The resulting disaster could have altered the outcome of the Civil War.

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Page last modified: 07-07-2011 02:42:52 ZULU