JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. - Soldiers assigned to the 570th Sapper Company conducted a five-day training exercise at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., Sept. 16-20 that providing leadership with evaluations in preparation for deployment to Afghanistan next year.
During the weeklong training, soldiers received hands on refresher training on equipment standard in their field. They worked with the Talon 4 robot, used to film and probe suspected explosive devices, and handheld mine detectors used to find metallic items, such as explosives underground.
Sappers then got behind the wheel of the Husky and Buffalo vehicles, which are commonly used to scan and interrogate explosive devices. The command staff also used the training exercise to determine who will do what job in the company during their deployment early next year.
“A tryout is a great way of looking at what we are doing this week,” said Capt. Nate Foust, company commander, 570th Sapper Company. “We want to get familiarization with all the equipment because we have to have redundancy. Everyone has to know every skill. But we really have to identify the soldiers who are experts at each one so we are able to start honing their skills for downrange.”
During their deployment, the 570th Sapper Company will be responsible for route clearance. Route clearance will put the Sappers out ahead of convoy and patrol missions looking for and clearing possible explosive devices from heavily used travel routes.
For some soldiers, their role while deployed can save the lives of those who will follow the route behind them. Even a veteran noncommissioned officer like Sgt. Robert Davis, a combat engineer with multiple deployments, takes this training very seriously.
“I’m glad we do this kind of refresher training. If you don’t practice these skills, you lose them,” said Davis, a Detroit, native. “Even when I do this in training I think of it like it’s real. I go over all the steps that we learn in my head. I’m always making sure I’m doing it right, because missing even one step in the real world can get you killed.”
One challenge the Sapper company has had to overcome in recent months is the influx of new soldiers to the unit and to the Army. However, the changes only build confidence for the unit’s commander.
“I’m actually glad we have a lot of new guys,” said Foust. “I feel confident we have a stable of great NCOs who are going to train them well and train them right. The new soldiers coming in are like blank slates. They soak up all this new information and training. I love the energy they bring as they want to learn everything you can teach.”
For one of the newest soldiers in the company, the excitement of the training and the upcoming deployment has him anxious, but also eager to do what he has trained to do.
“I am a little nervous, but this is going to be a new experience and I am very excited,” said Pvt. Billy Atkinson, of Fayetteville, N.C. “I’m really excited to do what a combat engineer is trained to do and go with this family I got when I arrived here. My platoon is my family and I know they have my back.”
The combat engineers will continue to train throughout the rest of the year and Staff Sgt. Michael Metzger hopes the soldiers take away an important lesson before they deploy.
“With time and experience, the new guys will become more comfortable with their jobs and confident in their equipment,” said Metzger, a Great Falls, Mont., native. “They may never lose the fear that comes with what we do, but they will step up and volunteer to clear routes because they know they will be protecting their battle buddies behind them.”
Training for the 570th Sapper Company will only continue to get more advanced as the unit continues its preparations and looks forward to training missions at Yakima Training Center, Wash., and the National Training Center, Calif., later this year.