News: 2nd, 4th CEB and 8th ESB Marines complete first Reserve Sapper Course
Story by Cpl. Marcin Platek
CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. - Sappers, or combat-engineer specialists, have been part of military history for more than 28 centuries.
From digging trenches to destroy fortifications of the Assyrian Army’s enemies, to building the fortifications for the Romans and fighting in every American conflict, the Sapper became a prestigious title recognized in the same ranks as special forces units.
More than 40 Marines of 2nd and 4th Combat Engineer Battalions and 8th Engineer Support Bn. re-lived some of that history when they participated in a Sapper Leaders Course here, July 15-29.
This was the first time Reserve Marines participated in Sapper training and the first time in two years the training was held at Camp Lejeune. Since the course was planned by 4th CEB but conducted by 2nd CEB engineer training area instructors, active-component Marines from 2nd CEB and 8th ESB were invited to participate.
According to Master Sgt. Harry Dreany, 4th CEB operations chief and lead planner for the course, the training was designed to enhance the knowledge of advanced tactics, techniques and procedures for Marines in the combat engineer military occupational field.
“The unique thing about this course is that it allows the Reservists within 4th CEB to participate in an MOS-enhancing course and allows an opportunity to really springboard their proficiency in their MOS that they normally would get on active duty,” said Dreany, a native of Fredericksburg, Va.
An active-duty Sappers Leaders Course is six-weeks long, but this duration was streamlined to 14 days in order to fit the Reserve Marines’ two-week annual training window.
The schedule crunch led to long and busy days for the students.
They began the course with an initial physical fitness test that counted toward their grade point average, followed immediately by a three-mile indoctrination run in full combat-utility uniforms and gear packs.
On a daily basis, they started their mornings with physical training such as running with Combat Rubber Reconnaissance crafts to “waking up the snakes,” or exercising with wooden logs. The days continued with long periods of instruction and practical application until late evening hours.
“It’s a Sapper Leaders Course. It’s challenging,” said Dreany. “They continually experienced the struggles that they have to go through in combat since they are tired and fatigued and put in near-impossible situations. They have to perform in order to accomplish that mission. The things that we’re doing here to put them in that simulated combat environment are to help them perform when they get the opportunity to serve downrange.”
Even though the course conditions and training were demanding, Dreany said the academic portion of the course was possibly the most difficult part.
They were taught the bread and butter aspects of the combat engineer MOS: basic, advanced, urban and expedient demolitions, and other subjects such as engineer reconnaissance, land navigation, patrolling, and communications.
The extensive training regimen did not allow the students to have free time to study the material, let alone get rest.
“The engineer T&R [Training and Readiness] Manual is very robust,” said Capt. Craig Bald, the training officer for 4th CEB and the officer-in-charge for the Sapper Leaders Course. “It is very difficult on the Reserve side to introduce and accomplish all this METL [Mission Essential Tasklist]-based training. It’s a unique opportunity for us as Reservists to partner with our active-duty counterparts at one location with subject-matter experts that do this training on a daily basis.”
The course had a two-fold advantage for active component and Reserve Marines, said Bald.
It allowed the Reserve Marines to see what it is like being on active duty and observing active-duty MOS proficiency. It also allowed the active Marines to see that the Reservists can perform on a high level.
“When you bring these students together, there is that initial stigma between the active duty and the Reserves,” said Bald, a native of Philadelphia. “What you see is that stigma disappears really quickly when the Marines realize that everybody brings a unique component to the table.”
Dreany said the active duty and Reserve relationship is one of the things that he is passionate about. He believes there is a bond that is created anytime Marines overcome challenges together and share blood, sweat and tears.
“The respect for the Reservists increases when they go though courses like these together,” he said. “This course, I believe, helps bridge the gap between the Reservist combat engineers and active-duty combat engineers. It was a true coming together of peers among the engineer community. It’s like poetry and flows seamlessly the way they came together.”
Reserve Marines with 4th CEB typically do not deploy as a battalion, but augment active-duty combat engineer battalions. This means that a platoon of Reserve engineers is also directly supporting an active-duty infantry battalion.
As they separate down into lower organizational elements such as squads or fire teams, the Sapper squad leader becomes the senior combat engineer leader.
“He’s the company commander’s senior engineer advisor and to effectively be that advisor, he has to be a master of everything engineering,” said Bald.
For the engineer, it also means that he has to articulate what are his capabilities, and be able to lead his Marines seamlessly with the infantry. He also has to assimilate the infantry standard operating procedures on top of being able to perform.
“We strongly believe that this type of training will better prepare that individual to do that job in supporting that infantry battalion,” said Bald. “Taking those academics, the leadership and the PT that we induce, we really get a unique individual that comes out of this course. This is, hands-down, one of the best ways we can task Marines for 14 days.”
Although Sappers have been training for hundreds of years, two weeks is all that it took the students of the course to “earn their castles,” said Dreany.
The castle is a representative image for the engineer which symbolizes the fortifications built by the early Sappers. It can be found on the emblems of all four combat engineer battalions in the Marine Corps. For Dreany and other Marines, it means becoming a part of a long history of Sappers.