Obstacle course

Staff Sgt. Michael Petitta, left, and Spc. Steven Wolfe, both combat engineers with Alpha Company, 91st Brigade Engineer Battalion, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, place simulated explosives to clear a wire obstacle during an offensive and defensive breaching exercise Oct. 24

Pfc. Paige Pendleton | U.S. Army

Engineers with Alpha Company, 91st “Saber” Brigade Engineer Battalion, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, honed conventional warfare techniques during an offensive and defensive breaching exercise Oct. 21-30.

Seventy-five Saber soldiers practiced the three tasks of combat engineers: survivability, counter mobility and mobility. Each platoon ran back-to-back breaching missions in a simulated minefield scattered with concertina wire obstacles.

Survivability is the ability for units to survive adverse circumstance on the battlefield. Demonstrating this task, the equipment platoon dug fighting positions concealing tanks, and Bradley Fighting Vehicles later providing security during breaching exercises.

Before engineers executed breaching missions, they built obstacles from concertina and barbed-wire framed by pickets simulating their counter mobility mission, which aims to reduce or control enemy movement.

In a deployed environment, obstacles would normally be attached to restricted terrain features like tree lines or rocky cliffs. The “disrupt” obstacles are designed to slow enemy movement and direct or keep them into an engagement area.

Soldiers demonstrated mobility by breaching the obstacles built for the counter mobility task. Back-to-back missions aimed to complete breaches in less than 10 minutes.

“Breaching is probably the single most (important) aspect that everyone really relies on us for,” said 1st Lt. Christopher Rojewski, Alpha Company executive officer. “If we don’t make that breach, the task force fails.”

The first step in breaching is getting fire support elements in place to provide security for combat engineers approaching the obstacle.

To advance on an obstacle, a soldier throws a grapnel hook, lays flat on his or her stomach and pulls it back, checking for mines or booby traps. The process is repeated until reaching the obstacle.

“This is the most dangerous part of the breach for a soldier,” Rojewski said.

Once establishing a clear route, a dismounted team moves up, neutralizing the obstacle by either cutting the wire or setting explosives.

After clearing the obstacle, an armored vehicle moves in to “proof the lane,” ensuring no remaining threats are present.

The last step in breaching is marking. Another team places cones or other devices marking the safe route.

“Once (everyone moves past the obstacle) the engineer mission for that specific obstacle is complete, and the mobility task has been accomplished,” Rojewski said.

Sgt. 1st Class Vervenir Astorga, a Saber combat engineer, said the quarterly training ensures engineers remain mission ready, which is important because new soldiers are always arriving.

“The less experienced soldiers right now are the ones getting employed,” Astorga said. “They’re the ones actually doing the drill.”

Astorga said each soldier gets experience driving engineer vehicles or conducting ground-level tasks like throwing the grapnel hook by swapping roles during breaching missions.

To achieve maximum safety, engineers are highly trained on explosives and demolitions. During breaches there is always one soldier whose main job is to double check explosives once they’ve been set, Rojewski said.

“Safety and accomplishing the mission is something we just can’t fail,” Rojewski said.

To build muscle memory, engineers ran missions throughout the day and into early morning.

Rojewski said he believes the soldiers would improve throughout the training, becoming more efficient after each successful breach.

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