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NEWS | May 22, 2015

Sapper unit trains to destroy lines of communication, movement

By Story by Staff Sgt. Debralee Best 412th Theater Engineer Command

FORT MCCOY, Wis. – The Soldiers rush on the airfield, some taking up positions of security, others hurry to place their engineer tape and lay down their charges. After they finish on the field, they move back to a berm and detonate.

These U.S. Army Reserve Soldiers didn’t really blow up an airfield, but they are training to do just that.

This was one part of a situational training exercise the Soldiers with the 344th Engineer Company (Sapper) preformed while participating in Warrior Exercise 86 15-02 at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, May 2 to 22. 

“We were setting up cratering charges and then on the ends of the runway you run cable so they can’t land or take off,” said Sgt. James Igou, 344th Eng. Company, 1st platoon team leader. “It’s like disabling a line of communication.”

This was the first stop on the STX lane, but it was the highlight.

“I think it went very well. We took an airfield,” said Sgt. Joseph Agner, 344th Eng. Company, 1st platoon sergeant. “It’s the first time this unit has probably done anything like that.”

The rest of the STX lane included convoy operations, reacting to an improvised explosive device and disabling a communications tower. 

“It’s definitely good training,” said Igou. “A lot of the young guys hadn’t put hands-on it and never really set-up an actual objective with the [demolition] so they got to see what we actually do, rather than us saying, ‘okay, you’re going to tie it into the line-main and all this other stuff.’ They actually got to see it applied.”

One demolition operation was removed from the STX lane, but the mission was still more complex than a platoon would usually accomplish.

“A 28-man group did the mission of two to three companies,” said Agner. “If we’d have gone full-speed with all three locations, that’s a battalion-sized element running an op and we ran it with 28 guys. I think we did pretty well.”

This was one of the many STX lanes the unit completed leading up to their culminating event.

The culminating event included setting up three sites for demolition to deny the enemy lines of movement and provide over watch. This STX lane was designed to destroy a rail line, destroy a highway and conduct a bridge destruct. 

“We’re going to break our platoon into four-man teams and provide over watch,” said Agner. “So hopefully, if anything happens, the enemy comes in or we see mass enemy movement, we go ahead and blow it, and get out of there as expeditiously as possible.”

Being a part of WAREX has helped leaders show the less experienced Soldiers what to expect should they be deployed.

“It’s helped us sharpen our skills and that way we can take the knowledge we have and pass it down to younger Soldiers who really don’t have a lot of experience,” said Agner. “They actually get to see, to an extent, how you operate downrange, how things go: your convoys, your convoy briefs, trip tickets, vehicle maintenance, reacting to contact, movement, all that stuff. It kind of lets the guys who have never deployed before see how things really are downrange and how they operate.”

Passing on that knowledge has had a direct correlation to the Soldiers’ performance. 

“I’m proud of my guys. They’ve really shown me what they’re capable of. Being able to see my Soldiers, my platoon, work together, run missions together, how they react to contact, as a combat engineer in a Sapper unit,” said Agner. “I tell them all the time that they’re great, they’re going a great job because they are. That’s a direct reflection of leaders, how we train and prepare them. Makes me feel good that they’re actually paying attention.”

It should be no surprise the Soldiers are paying attention as they want to be trained. 

“The Soldiers are hungry for knowledge,” said Agner. “They want to know, they want to learn so as NCOs it’s our job to feed them the knowledge and feed them the information they need.”

Giving them the knowledge is helping them accomplish the lanes training. In turn, that is helping build bonds within the unit.

“When you talk to them you can see that they see as well the changes we’re going through here. We’re going from one weekend a month seeing each other to here together, we’re bonding, we’re building that cohesion we need to actually get the mission done,” said Igou. “When they see that it boosts their morale and to see it from a leader’s standpoint, it just builds your morale even more, makes you fired up and ready to go.”