News: SAPPER team shakes the field
Story by Sgt. Angela Parady
FORT DEVENS, Mass. - “Fire in the hole,” the soldier shouts. “Fire in the hole! Fire in the hole!” From the shelter of a cement bunker, the soldier pushes a button on the detonator; with a deafening boom the explosives shoot dust, dirt and rocks hundreds of feet into the air.
When the dust settles, soldiers from the 251st Engineering Company, (SAPPERS) walk back to the field to reset their equipment, familiarizing themselves with the explosives in a hands-on environment.
The SAPPERS shook the fields at Fort Devens this weekend as they conducted demolitions training using line and ring mains attached to blocks of C4 explosive. The training reinforced the soldier’s skills in removing defensive obstacles and safe handling of the explosives. It also tested the squad leaders’ ability to plan and execute fundamental demolition tasks.
The SAPPERS are tasked with performing route reconnaissance and route clearance missions in deployed environments. Training like this is essential to their job.
“When you go overseas the Army is short on explosive ordnance disposal personnel,” said Sgt. Paul Simoneau, a team leader from Winthrop. “They can’t be there every time we need them; they are very busy doing their own jobs. Routes still need to be cleared and as combat engineers that is our primary mission: route clearance and route reconnaissance. It is crucial for us to be able to reduce our own munitions overseas and get the mission accomplished.”
Simoneau deployed in 2009 with the 20th Engineering Brigade, 27th Engineer Battalion, Fort Bragg as a combat engineer whose primary mission was route clearance. Combat engineers are trained to set off explosives in place to clear the way, but unlike trained EOD personnel, they cannot render an explosive ‘safe.’ Looking back on his own experiences, Simoneau said the training Maine Guardsmen are receiving is very realistic.
“We like to train as we fight,” he said. “You want to be as realistic as possible so that when you go overseas, it isn’t a culture shock. You are doing the same thing. You have the added threat of an ever present enemy but there is security added too.”
A veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Simoneau came to the Maine National Guard two years ago. He beams with pride when he shares his experience as a combat engineer with the SAPPERS, a newer unit that got its start three years ago. Improvised Explosive Devices were a large threat then as well, and his unit became very adept at clearing munitions in place. He says the noncommissioned officers and officers he worked with helped shape him into the soldier he is today.
“The leadership was outstanding,” said Simoneau. “They really trained us on our skills, and shared what they learned in their schools.”
Similarly, he found the 251st to be just as outstanding as his active duty unit.
“They are very well prepared, very knowledgeable for such a young combat engineer unit,” he said of the SAPPERS. “We have sent a lot of people to a lot of schools in preparation for mobilization, so we have a lot of knowledge for a young company.”
Spc. Jeffrey Shock agreed, he joined the Maine Army National Guard in 2010, and has been with the SAPPER Company since its beginning. He described the SAPPERS as a hybrid of an engineer and an infantryman.
“We are trained in infantry, but it is secondary,” said Shock, who lives in West Paris, Maine. “Our primary mission is explosives, route clearance, and route reconnaissance. We are trained in survivability, mobility and counter mobility.”
Being so close to explosives could make anyone a little nervous, but the men of the 251st SAPPER Company are confident in their leadership, their training, and their fellow soldiers.
“I don’t know if we could ask for better leadership,” said Shock. “They really know how to adapt to situations and make things work and they understand it.”
The 251st SAPPERS were on track to deploy earlier this year, until the deployment was cancelled with the follow up of the reduction of troops going to Afghanistan. Even then, the SAPPERS felt ready and prepared.
“We couldn’t have asked for better training,” said Shock. “We went to all the best schools you could possibly go to, best training available and it was kind of a letdown when we got the call saying we weren’t going. But we are able to respond to anything right off the bat. We are very versatile, can adapt to any situation. When Maine needs us again, or the country needs us again, we will be ready.”