Combat engineers breach enemy lines, support infantry assault

Base Info
Pfc. Nathaniel A. Henthorne engages and suppresses targets July 22 at Range 10 near Camp Schwab during a combined-arms exercise. (Photo by Cpl. Mark W. Stroud)
Pfc. Nathaniel A. Henthorne engages and suppresses targets July 22 at Range 10 near Camp Schwab during a combined-arms exercise. (Photo by Cpl. Mark W. Stroud)

Combat engineers breach enemy lines, support infantry assault

by: Lance Cpl. Brandon C. Suhr | .
Okinawa Marine Staff | .
published: August 02, 2013

CAMP SHWAB, OKINAWA, Japan -- From razor wire to land mines, fixed defenses have always posed a challenge for infantrymen attempting to close with the enemy, serving to block their path or direct them into heavily defended areas. Marine infantry relies on combat engineers to breach obstacles and provide clear lanes of approach to the enemy.

Marines with Combat Engineer Company, Combat Assault Battalion, teamed with infantrymen with 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, to execute live-fire and maneuver and obstacle-breaching training July 22 at Range 10 near Camp Schwab.

The training marks the first time in five years that CAB Marines have been able to conduct live-fire and maneuver exercises in conjunction with infantrymen, according to Capt. Timothy G. Ernst, the Combat Engineer Co. commander, CAB, 3rd Marine Division, III Marine Expeditionary Force. The resumption of the unit deployment program has brought U.S.-based units to Okinawa, allowing CAB to train hand in hand with units it would serve with on a combat deployment.

“Engineers train to infantry standards because we support infantry units,” said Ernst. “We have to be able to do everything they can do and still do our (primary) job.”

Marines with 3rd Bn., 6th Marines, provided indirect-fire support with 60 mm mortars as a squad of CAB Marines closed with and breached the obstacle. Once the obstacle had been breached, the Marines destroyed the enemy positions. Meanwhile, a second squad of CAB Marines provided direct-fire support with light and medium machine guns.

“This type of training hasn’t happened for some time now,” said 1st Lt. Thomas J. Baxter, a platoon commander with Combat Engineer Co., CAB. “It’s good that we are getting out here and doing it.”

Squad live-fire and maneuver training expands the skill-set of junior Marines and sharpens the skills of senior Marines who have not conducted similar training in an extended period of time, according to Baxter.

“There are times when we, as combat engineers, may be attached to infantry units, so we have to understand what those units do,” said Baxter. “We have to understand the piece we play in it.”

The training required the Marines to combine a wide spectrum of their training and capabilities to accomplish the mission, according to Baxter.

The engineers used bangalore torpedoes to clear concertina wire obstacles while the fire-support elements suppressed simulated enemy combatants.

“With this training, we will be able to better our breaching techniques to help ensure mission accomplishment” said Pfc. David J. Choppa, a combat engineer with the company. “The way we tactically destroyed the concertina wire taught us how to breach enemy areas, so we can efficiently close with them and secure the objective.”

The UDP units, including infantry battalions, and a light armored reconnaissance company assigned to CAB, have provided new training opportunities to Okinawa-based units with their expanded capabilities.

“You have to train like you fight,” said Baxter. “As engineers, it’s extremely important for us, especially here at CAB, because we are a unique piece and we can be attached to infantry units at any time.”

The training also helps the engineers during any future assignments with ground-combat-element units, according to Choppa.

“Since this training hasn’t happened in over five years, it was new to most of the Marines here,” said Choppa. “I think we conducted the training well, and now we can pass this knowledge on to other troops.”