News: Maine Sapper's sharpen skills during annual training
Story by Sgt. Angela Parady
FORT INDIANTOWN GAP, Pa. - Maine Army National Guard Soldiers in the 251st Engineer Company (SAPPER) recently completed their annual training in Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania. The two weeks were amply filled with demolitions, weapons qualifications, land navigation, and other physically and mentally demanding tasks that support their role as combat engineers.
Sappers are highly trained combat engineers who specialize in supporting maneuver units by conducting reconnaissance of bridges and roads, mine-detection and clearing operations with the use of explosives. By clearing obstacles and gaining entry to locations they give freedom of movement to the allied forces, while also being able to stop the enemy forces by cutting off lines of communication through creating obstacles.
Sappers often work with, or ahead of, infantry units on the front lines, so a variety of physical and mental demands are always a part of any training conducted by the 251st.
Pfc. Nicholas Kauffman, a combat engineer with the 251st said that the collective training period was a valuable time to take inventory of where they stand as a collective unit with the skills they need to be proficient in.
“These are very perishable skills,” said Kauffman, who lives in Wells. “If we don’t use them, we lose it. We do a lot every month, so that we can stay skilled in them. If we don’t practice these things, like demolitions calculations, knot tying, cratering charges, they aren’t fresh in our minds. It would slow us down. You don’t want to be trying to remember how to do something in the middle of a demolitions field.”
Kauffman said that the training they were getting on newer equipment, such as the Javelin missile and the Raven, that not everyone was familiar with yet, was another added asset to the experience. The Raven, is an unmanned aerial vehicle that the soldiers can use to collect information about the enemies whereabouts and activities. Spc. Mark Pierce, traveled to Alabama last year to get the training needed in order to operate the Raven.
“It’s been about a year since we last flew the Raven, so this has been a good chance to take it out and get some practical experience with it,” said Pierce, who lives in Augusta. “It’s for surveillance. We can fly it out, get pictures, it brings us back recon information on the enemy’s position and what they are doing, without us having to go there.”
Pierce said he was happy to sharpen his skills on the Raven, and on the other practical tools his company uses on a daily basis, and those they don’t use daily, such as the Javelin. The Javelin is a medium range anti-armor missile that is capable of destroying armored vehicles, such as tanks, armored personnel carriers and low flying aircraft. It is also effective on buildings.
The cost of the Javelin missile limits the amount of live-fire training soldiers can experience. Most of the training with the missiles comes in the form of a basic skills trainer, which simulates most, but not all of the weapons characteristics. The training reinforces the basics, provides a wide range of scenarios and reminds soldiers of what they need to focus on.
“The demolitions range was the most fun, watching stuff blow up,” he said. “That’s what we do; it’s our bread and butter. But, at the end of the day, I like to be able to critique myself, find out what I need to brush up on. Knot tying is one of those things I need to focus on, and the demolitions calculations. This stuff comes back to you once you are doing it, but it would be nice to just be able to know it.”
The training area in Fort Indiantown Gap provides more opportunities to conduct the demolitions training, one of the major capabilities that the 251st has in their arsenal, which is why training there is an advantage to the soldiers. It isn’t often during their normal drill schedule that they can have hands on experience with the demolitions.
“We are combat engineers,” said Pierce. “If we get deployed, that’s what they will call for us to do. They want us to work with the demolitions, clear routes. Find the IEDs, stuff like that. Having this experience is really important.”
Kauffman agreed the training was a valuable experience, both in knowledge gained and in building more unit cohesion. Instead of being able to go home at night, the soldiers got the chance to discuss the day’s training, to talk about home and family, and get to really know each other.
“There is just something about being at annual training. You spend time with people in your platoon. You build that brotherhood, that family. It’s not like the end of a drill day. You are here with them for two weeks. You get a lot of funny stories; you get a lot of good times. The training is fun, because you are doing it with them.”
Just because the 251st is back in Maine, doesn’t mean the training ends. For these National Guard soldiers, a lot of work is required on their part to stay sharp and ready, said Kauffman. Being in a Sapper unit means you are held to the highest of expectations. According to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, where the Sapper Leader Course is conducted, a sapper is considered an elite combat engineer in the United States Army. In the French army, sapeur (sapper), refers to the first official corps created by Napoleon I, a military engineering corp.
“You are always being testing physically and mentally, in my unit,” said Kauffman. “No matter how tough it gets, you can’t quit. Don’t quit. It gets easier. You have to train yourself to study and train at home. If you know there is a drill weekend coming up, you have to train for it, you have to be ready for it.”