News: 2nd, 4th CEB, and 8th ESB Marines participate in Sapper Leaders Course urban demolition range
Story by Cpl. Marcin Platek
CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. - As a stack of Marines moved up to the target, the blanket man holding a shrapnel-protective blast blanket moved up to what he calculated was a safe standoff. As he unrolled the blanket, the breacher and assistant breacher moved up to the target and placed the charge.
After the charge had been primed, they moved behind the blanket man and simultaneously the Marines providing rear security moved in as well. At this time the instructor came to the breacher to give him the firing mechanism. The breacher charged it with an electrical ignition device and began to count off as the instructor made his way to the rear of the stack.
The only thing to be seen after that was a explosion of vigorous proportions — the masterpiece of a Sapper.
The breacher and the 10 other Marines behind him endured the powerful impact and stood their ground, unlike the entryway they had just decimated.
As they checked their simulated corners beyond the breached entryway, the scenario came to the end. The observing instructor had no corrections, signaling a near-perfect execution.
The silence settled once again in the secluded forest until the next string of students performed another demolition.
More than 40 Marines of 2nd and 4th Combat Engineer Battalions and 8th Engineer Support Bn. participated in the urban demolition range here, July 24.
The range was part of a two-week Sapper Leaders Course, first of its kind designed to allow Reserve and more than a handful of active-duty Marines to receive advanced training in the combat engineer military occupational specialty. Combat engineers, also known as Sappers, were known for their expertise in building fortifications but also for their abilities for breaching terrain obstacles. For these Marines, it meant earning a title that is more than four centuries old.
According to Sgt. Jacob Bublitz, a 2nd CEB engineer training area instructor and one of the instructors for the course, the knowledge of urban demolition and the different type of explosives is imperative to combat engineers as they can play a vital role on the battlefield.
“What we like to accomplish is that after the practical application and knowledge that has been built, we can provide to the division and to the Marine Corps as a whole, a proficient asset: somebody who can answer commanders’ questions like ‘we need to get through this wall or into this building, do we have that capability?,’” said Bublitz, a native of Beaver Dam, Wis.
To complete the one-day range, the students had to receive an extended period of instruction familiarizing them with basic, intermediate and advanced explosives, and standard procedures of setting and detonating those charges.
The course participants were also taught about urban construction standards in order to recognize the type of building and its floor plan to correctly choose the right charge. This instruction allowed them to study different structural genres from around the world in order to expedite the planning process in real-world situations.
Bublitz stressed to them the importance of knowing their targets. Not only were they taught to see the small picture of what they are doing to a target, but also the big picture of what they are allowing to be accomplished around them.
“You need to have a full sense of what that target is and what is coming to us,” he said. “Some people might see a concrete wall and think that putting in more demo might make it work better, but once the shot goes off you see that the wall is reinforced with a rebar and you have a metal cage in front of you. Now, you have not completed the breach, nor cleared the path for other Marines to use.”
The Marines were also required to create each type of charge they were going to utilize, to include doughnut, oval, concrete, det-linear, uli-knot slider, fence, window and water charges.
Cpl. Preston Gardner, a student and combat engineer with Company B, 4th CEB, said that building charges enabled the training to be more realistic and allowed everyone to be aware of how each charge is made and the amount of explosives composing it.
“You actually get to see a charge that you put together by hand, you feel it go off and see the after-effects of it going off,” said Gardner, a native of Bridgewater, Va.
Gardner and the rest of the students were able to experience their own creations the next day. They began with dry rehearsals that Bublitz called more of a “crawl stage,” where Marines slowly practiced setting up the charges and their stacks in order to properly execute a breach. During this phase, the instructors corrected deficiencies and explained to students each task carefully and why they performed them.
“Confidence is built by experience,” he said. “The confidence built on the knowledge and experience gained from our ranges allows them to own the task of clearing an entryway into a required objective.”
The first time through live fire was a learning period where students were able to feel the ammunition and how it impacts them and the follow-on actions after the demolition, said Bublitz.
“It’s a shock for anybody,” he said. “When you throw up that blanket and you actually take the pressure from a charge, you have to readjust.”
Even though Gardner has past experience with demolitions, he said the closeness of the explosion makes the urban demolition experience different than any other range in the Sapper Leaders Course.
“Some of the blasts were eight feet away from us,” said Gardner. “It really makes a big difference and makes the range that more interesting. Instead of standing 300 yards back in a bunker where you don’t get to see the blast, with urban demo you’re right up on it and get to see it and feel it.”
After a few runs, the instructors threw in different variables and started “painting the scenario,” said Bublitz.
For example, the students were taking fire and performing hasty or deliberate breaches where they had to brief a commander or their fellow students. Not only were they taught to think before and during the process, but also to remember vital details that can give a commander a more clear picture of the battlefield.
“You are providing us a canvas, and in the end-state there is going to be a masterpiece painted,” said Bublitz.
This work, 2nd, 4th CEB, and 8th ESB Marines participate in Sapper Leaders Course urban demolition range, by Sgt Marcin Platek, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.