Continuing with training at Fort Leonard Wood.
This was originally published in The Belle Banner, Belle Missouri October 14th 2017.
I have previously written about Combat Engineers and I am going to visit them again, because they are also trained at Fort Leonard Wood.
The Engineer Center and School was moved from Fort Belvoir, Virginia to Fort Leonard Wood in 1988, as a result of Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) approved by congress. The Military Police Center and School, and the Chemical Center and School were moved from Fort McClellan, Alabama to Fort Leonard Wood in 1999, also in BRAC that year. Our District US Representative, at that time, was Ike Skelton, who was a long time member, and finally Chairman, of the House Armed Services Committee, and was very influential in those moves. When the Chemical and the MP folks moved to Fort Leonard Wood it became the “Maneuver Support Center”.
In the past, Fort Leonard Wood was referred to, by the troops, as “Fort Lost in the Woods”, “Little Korea”, and various other less respectful names. The families assigned there complained that there was nothing to do, and no shopping. That has changed. In the last 20 years, there has been a tremendous explosion of business and population in the St Robert/Waynesville area, as well as an explosion of construction on the Fort. In researching these columns, this year, I have read many comments from wives of soldiers, and trainees alike that say Fort Leonard Wood is great. Some have called it “the best kept secret in the Army”.
Combat Engineers are as close to being Infantry as you can get, and not be Infantry. Combat Engineers are trained at Fort Leonard Wood. Infantry soldiers are trained at Fort Benning, Georgia. Both are trained in OSUT (One Station Unit Training) companies, meaning trainees stay in the same company for basic combat training (BCT) and advanced individual training (AIT). Both are 14 weeks long. Actually 15 to 16 weeks when you throw in processing at each end. The MOS (military occupational specialty), i.e. job, for light weapons infantryman is 11B. The MOS for combat engineers is 12B. Airborne and light infantry squads and engineer squads have identical organizations, two 4 man teams each led by a Sergeant, with a Staff Sergeant Squad Leader. The secondary mission of combat engineers is to perform as infantry, if necessary. The first eight weeks is basic training, which is normally nine weeks, but OSUT companies don’t clean and turn in weapons and equipment, practice and have graduation, and process out. They have a simple one day completion ceremony, after the end of BCT final tests, and then continue on with their MOS training. Infantry soldiers spend six weeks studying and practicing infantry tactics and weapons, whereas combat engineer soldiers study and practice constructing defensive positions like concertina wire, log and rock obstacles, and tank traps. Then they learn how breach those things, how to blow holes in defensive positions, buildings and doors. They learn how to build fixed and floating bridges, and how to blow them up, and if boats are used they also fall under the engineers. They spend a lot of time on explosives, how to set charges in various conditions. Then they study and practice one of the primary uses of combat engineers in Iraq and Afghanistan – route clearance, in other words, how to find and eliminate IED’s (improvised explosive devices).
Combat Engineer soldiers who stay in the Army will return to Fort Leonard Wood, on temporary duty, after they become a Sergeant, to attend an eight week Advanced Leaders Course, as will Military Police and Chemical soldiers. After they make Staff Sergeant they will return again for a 10 week Senior Leaders Course (MP’s & Chemical also). Officers who are commissioned into the Corps of Engineers attend a three month basic officer leadership course at Fort Leonard Wood, then after about four or five years of service they return on a permanent change of station (PCS) to attend a six month Captains Career Course. Military Police and Chemical Corps officers follow the same pattern. Combat Engineer sergeants and officers may return to attend the very tough 28 day (continuous) Sapper Leaders Course. It is considered to be the engineer’s version of Ranger School, although engineers also attend Ranger School. Graduates of the Sapper Leaders Course get a “Sapper” tab on the left shoulder of their uniform, just like Rangers. A “Sapper” is a combat engineer soldier who is with the front line infantry troops. In Vietnam we had enemy sappers that could sneak through the perimeter wire and leave charges (bombs). We now train soldiers to do just that.
I occasionally had an Engineer Squad attached to my Rifle Platoon, usually it was for them to blow something up, like bridges, buildings or obstacles. Every Brigade Combat Team now has an Engineer Battalion, which consists of a Headquarters Company, two Engineer Companies, one of which is usually a “Sapper” company, a Signal Company, a Military Intelligence Company, and a Chemical detachment.
In 2007 the 173rd Airborne Brigade from Vicenza, Italy, having already deployed to Iraq for a year, and another year in Afghanistan, was again in Afghanistan on a 15 month deployment. Elite troops earn that title, they get used more than others, and naturally they were in one of the hottest spots in Afghanistan, the volatile Korengal River Valley. On November 16th, 2007, a squad from the Route Clearance Platoon of the Brigade’s Engineer Company was doing what they did about every day – route clearance: “Out looking for bombs”. Staff Sergeant Lincoln Dockery was the Squad Leader. They left Forward Operating Base (FOB) Asadabad in Kunar Province to clear the same stretch of road for the third consecutive day. Intelligence had reported hostile activity in the area. Staff Sergeant Dockery’s lead vehicle, a Husky mine-detecting vehicle, activated an IED (bomb). Rocket propelled grenades (RPG’s) started hitting the damaged vehicle and it became clear that they were in the middle of an ambush. Staff Sergeant Dockery first went to see the condition of the driver, PFC Amador Magana, of the damaged vehicle. Staff Sergeant Dockery said, “I could see RPG’s and rounds impacting all over the vehicle, and the front windshield was about to cave in from all the (AK-47) bullets.” He then snuck around from the other side, climbed up the back tire, knocked on the window and saw that Magana was barely conscious, but not wounded. Magana managed to give a thumbs up, then stood up and started returning fire at the enemy with his M-249 machine gun. Staff Sergeant Dockery said; ”We could see RPG’s and small arms fire coming at us from across a river. But when I looked to the right, I could see RPG’s hitting our side of the vehicle”. Staff Sergeant Dockery said that he realized that another enemy fire team was much closer, actually about 20 meters (60 feet) from our position. He said; “If we didn’t assault the hill they were attacking from, they would have taken us out. They couldn’t miss, with their weapons, they were so close”. At that point, with the squad firing at the enemy, to keep their heads down, Staff Sergeant Dockery and Specialist Corey Taylor, one of his soldiers, charged the enemy. They were firing and exchanging hand grenades. “Someone yelled out, and I looked up and saw it coming. My hand went up and a hot, sharp feeling went through. The shrapnel didn’t really hurt initially. We also had to dig shrapnel out of Taylor’s leg later,” he said. The pair low-crawled the rest of the way up, watching bullets kick up rocks and dirt all around them, then they pushed the enemy back from their position and found the IED command detonator and wire. Indirect fire, air strikes and other close air support was called in later to deal with about 30 fleeing enemy, but Staff Sergeant Dockery’s assault kept everyone in the patrol alive.
Sixteen months later, Lieutenant General Kenneth Hunzeker, Commander of V (5th) Corps in Europe, awarded Staff Sergeant Dockery the Silver Star. In his remarks, General Hunzeker said; “Truly, Sergeant Dockery is an NCO (non-commissioned officer) who has stepped forward”. At the ceremony, Captain William Cromie, who was Staff Sergeant Dockery’s Platoon Leader that day in Afghanistan, said; “I don’t want to think about what would have happened had he not been there. It would have been a completely different day. While described in the infantry field manual, and taught at every schoolhouse in our career, if asked to charge into an enemy, uphill and within hand grenade range, most people only know yes as a book answer.”
Staff Sergeant Dockery’s wife, Dominika, his son Lincoln, 4, and daughter Pria, 2, were at his side during the ceremony. In his remarks, Staff Sergeant Dockery said; “It was my third deployment, but my best deployment. All our guys made it back.” He also said that his main goal, in life, was to be a better husband and father.
Continuing with training at Fort Leonard Wood.