CAMP ROBERTS, Calif. --
When they need to build a bridge or tear one down, but the nearest hardware store is an ocean away and the enemy could open fire at any moment, Marines call in the combat engineers.
Marines and sailors with 1st Combat Engineer Battalion, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force, are participating in a battalion level exercise, Pioneer Express, aboard Camp Roberts, Fort Hunter Liggett and Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California, from Aug. 28 to Sep. 10, 2015.
This training tests the engineering and tactical combat skills of each Marine, better preparing them for future operations around the world. Marine Corps combat engineers must be proficient in a variety of fields such as basic infantry skills, mobility and counter mobility operations, survivability and general engineering.
Major Michael Heit, battalion executive officer, explained that the battalion does not often get the opportunity to train in major exercises or deploy in operations as a unit, but rather breaks down into smaller elements to support infantry battalions.
He stated that the exercise will help prepare the unit for any real-world situations that may require more robust engineer support. He added that one of the main benefits of the training evolution is it allows the Marines and sailors to focus on command and control (C2) at a battalion level, better prepping them for the possibility of future deployments.
“If there’s an earthquake anywhere or anything happens in the world and they need engineer support, now we have the training and experience to [support],” he said.
In addition to further developing C2 across the battalion, the exercise includes multiple demolition and machine gun ranges, extensive counter improvised explosive device method training, route clearances and infantry tactics.
Lieutenant Colonel Colin Smith, the battalion’s commanding officer, explained the Marines and sailors have put in a large amount of effort and time into planning for the exercise and he has high expectations for their performance.
“It should go great; they’ve done a lot of preparation,” he said. “The companies have spent the last two months in various phases getting ready for the types of tasks they would do when they came up here.”
According to Smith, the battalion’s lack of organic communication assets created a slight obstacle for the unit’s leaders.
“We don’t have a lot of communication assets resident in our battalion,” Smith said. “Usually our companies just plug into the regiment they’re supporting because most of the time we don’t do command and control.”
But in order to prepare for this hurdle, multiple communication exercises were conducted prior to Pioneer Express to ensure the Marines were ready to execute during the larger training evolution.
To add more realism and challenge to the communication circuit, the unit is conducting the exercise across a geographically broad training area, with various elements operating in Camp Roberts, neighboring Fort Hunter Liggett, as well as Camp Pendleton, approximately 350 miles to the south.
By training alongside other units in the Blue Diamond, 1st CEB developed their communication capabilities and have exceeded expectations already.
“We’ve actually been surprised that we can talk between Camp Roberts and Camp Pendleton,” said Smith. “We didn’t think we’d be able to do that.”
With months of planning behind them and effective communication established, exercise Pioneer Express will allow the battalion to refine C2 methods and various engineering and infantry tactics needed to successfully complete future operations.