Engineers blast back to basics
CAMP SCHWAB, OKINAWA, Japan -- The command “pop smoke!” initiates a precise time fuse, followed minutes later by explosions shaking the ground and booming echoes reverberating throughout the training area.
Marine combat engineers with various units assigned to III Marine Expeditionary Force honed their capabilities to employ explosives during a four-day basic demolition course April 13-16 at Camp Schwab.
“The Marines focused on the basics of demolition, including using detonation cord, C-4, TNT, electric and nonelectric detonation methods and practiced demolition charge preparation,” said 2nd Lt. John O. Mutton, a combat engineer officer with Marine Wing Support Squadron 172, Marine Aircraft Group 36, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, III MEF.
The training began in a classroom setting to review safety procedures, and then transitioned to a live-fire practical application portion.
With the safety of Marines paramount, knowing how to properly handle and detonate explosives can be the difference between life and death during training and real-world operations, according to Sgt. Shawn D. Olewiler, a combat engineer with the squadron.
“Every tool of the trade has a different effect,” said Olewiler. “Knowing the right tool to use for the right job is the key to being proficient at our craft.” During the practical application portion of the training, several obstacles were emplaced in the training area. Marines then analyzed and determined how to effectively reduce the obstructions using the basic demolition capabilities they learned.
After determining the best course of action, the students calculated how long each detonating fuse would burn before triggering the detonation, according to Olewiler. Once the fuse initiated, the Marines would move to a safer area and wait the predetermined time before each detonation.
Regardless of whether the obstacle was made of logs, barbed wire or steel beams, the Marines effectively reduced them using the techniques and tools taught during the course, according to Olewiler.
To properly destroy the variety of obstacles, the Marines assembled several explosives, including basic C-4 charges, TNT, cratering charges, bangalore torpedoes and several expedient charges.“Being able to see a cloud of dust rise after a ball of fire gets my heart beating faster, especially because I am not practicing my primary military occupational specialty due to my present (billet),” said Lance Cpl. James E. Brown, a combat engineer currently serving as a civil affairs noncommissioned officer with the civil affairs detachment, G-3, operations, III MEF.
As the Marines spent more time working with the explosives and examining the ordnances’ effectiveness, they became more confident in their skills, according to Brown.
“At first, some of us were more tense working with the explosives,” said Brown. “As we (continued the training), I loosened up but stayed very much at the alert. At the end of the day, (if) my skills are needed as a combat engineer, I will be confident to help the mission succeed.”
Throughout the training, the noncommissioned officers took the lead in educating and training the Marines, ensuring the course was safe and successful, according to Mutton.