MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif -- Marines with 1st Combat Engineer Battalion, 1st Marine Division, executed a simulated, route clearance drill and evaluation during Exercise Steel Knight at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, California, Dec. 13, 2015.
Steel Knight is a 1st Mar. Div. led exercise, which enables the Marines and sailors to operate in a realistic environment to develop skill sets necessary to maintain a fully capable Marine Air Ground Task Force.
For the combat engineers during route clearance, Marines use a variety of vehicles to search for improvised explosive devices, mines and other dangerous obstructions in a planned route.
“Our whole job is to get whoever is behind us to their destination safely and that’s our number one goal,” Cpl. Robert Cox, a squad leader with the battalion.
The engineers pushed out of the 1st Marine Division’s forward operating base in the early morning to clear a route while being closely observed by evaluators.
“I think its important to do this so we can show off our capabilities and how we can work with other units on a route clearance,” said 1st Lt. Mark Loyd, a platoon commander with the battalion.
They were tested on their tactics, techniques and procedures under stressful scenarios to better prepare them for future operations.
“It really helps us with pointing out our shortfalls and it’s always better to have the view of the outside looking in,” said Cox.
The evaluations help us see past the small things and understand the bigger picture and how all the different gears work together, said Cox.
The convoy was comprised of mine detection vehicles, mine-protected route clearance vehicles and mine resistant ambush-protected vehicles. The mine protected route clearance vehicles have additional infrared detection technology and a robotic arm to dig up explosive devices, ultimately providing additional means of IED identification and protecting Marines.
Along the route, the Marines of 1st CEB found and disrupted two explosives but hit one simulated explosive, took casualties from simulated sniper fire and had to tow three vehicles out of the sand.
“These guys [evaluators] are going to hit us on things and they’re going to set us up for failure, but that’s what it is for,” Loyd said. “We definitely have a lot to work on but that’s why we come out here, so we know what we need to fix.”
Overall, the Marines succeeded in their evaluation because of their ability to react quickly and adapt under pressure.