News: Maine sappers learn and excel
Story by Spc. Adam Simmler
FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. - Members of the 251st Engineer Company, Maine Army National Guard in Norway, Maine, are no strangers to explosive situations. As combat engineers, also known as sappers, soldiers of the unit specialize in working under fire and in dangerous areas.
In preparation for a deployment to Afghanistan in the fall, the sappers are training to be even more effective in a hostile environment through the Route Reconnaissance Clearance Course, or R2C2, offered by the Counter Explosive Hazard Center at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.
While in R2C2, the sappers are taught the many critical tasks involved in ensuring that roads traveled everyday are safe for conveys carrying much-needed supplies and personnel, as well as civilian vehicles.
“It's very intense from a training perspective, said Mark Miner, the training supervisor and R2C2 course manager. “We conduct operators training where they're getting into a vehicle and operating it by themselves, we have no brake on our side to stop them if they have an accident, so there's always a chance of something happening.”
During R2C2, students train on the top hand-held mine detection platforms, in order learn the most effective techniques to search for explosives. They are instructed on a number of robotics platforms, from hand-launched drones for reconnaissance, to remote controlled mine-clearing robots, such as the TALON bomb disposal unit. Some soldiers also train to operate the vehicles used in a route clearance package, The RG-31, Husky, and the Buffalo, dubbed by many troops as the “Cadillac” of the three trucks.
“It's excellent training, the equipment we've had to use has been top notch, and the scenarios have been very realistic, said Staff Sgt. Dennis Troxell, a squad leader from Waterville, Maine. “We're picking up more information and utilizing it and applying it.”
Miner, who has managed the course since it's beginning in 2005, said that roughly 39,000 students from all branches of United States military have studied at the CEHC, with approximately 60 percent taking R2C2 over the last eight years.
“They've actually been one of the best courses that I've had while I've been here,” Said Miner. “They are very attentive, very disciplined and really care about what they're doing, paying attention to what they need to do to survive in a combat situation while doing route clearance.”
“The instructors have been great,” commented Pfc. Calahan McCue from Denmark, Maine. "They're really willing to teach and help us, and stay late if we need more time to understand the material."
The help offered by the instructors, and the motivation of the soldiers to learn was demonstrated at the end of the first week; every one of the 67 Maine sappers received a passing grade on their written test.
During the final week, students from the 251st are placed in a virtual route clearance simulator, to put into action all the lessons they have been learning over the duration of the course. Throughout the simulation, sappers are tasked with scanning for, and clearing all roadside bombs they find along a designated route. Students use realistic vehicle and equipment controls, and simulated weapons to neutralize explosives and if necessary, fight off virtual enemies.
“I think [the training] is very important,” said Joe Clarke, training facilitator for the simulation program. “it's training soldiers to go do things that will save not only their lives, but also other coalition forces lives.”
After completing the The two-week course, the sappers will return to Maine, where they will be able to teach soldiers from the rest of their unit all the important skills they learned while here.
The role that we play, teaching the route clearance course, is crucial, said Miner. “The biggest killer that we have in-country is IEDs, so teaching them to operate the equipment to the best of their ability, to the best of our teaching ability, and to the maximum capability of the equipment is very important, and it is saving lives.”
Troxell stated that “The biggest motivation is to train these younger soldiers, and make them proficient so that we can get in country, do our mission, and come home.”
“We really appreciate not only what they do, but the attitude they have to do it,” said Miner. “And we wish them the best of luck on their mission in Afghanistan.”