Soldiers who purposely engage the enemy in combat, those who close with the enemy to kill or capture him by fire and maneuver, get shot at, and return fire, try to overcome fear, try to accomplish an objective and keep people from getting killed, are first the infantry. The infantry enlistment MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) is 11X, then in training they become a 11B Light Weapons Infantryman or a 11C Heavy Weapons Infantryman (mortars). Then there is Armor, MOS 19K, who rides in practically indestructible tanks, the Artillery, MOS 13B, is a long way from the fighting, and Cavalry Scouts’, MOS 19D, job is not to engage, but find what the enemy is doing and report it, but there are other soldiers who travel with the infantry when the infantry goes into combat, those are the COMBAT ENGINEERS, MOS 12B.
Combat Engineers are as close to being Infantry as you can get, and not be Infantry. Combat Engineers are trained at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Fort Leonard Wood is the home of the US Army Engineer Center and School, plus the Engineer Museum, which contains the Engineer Regimental Room. 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). Engineer OSUT is 14 weeks long. Infantry OSUT is 22 weeks. 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, of engineer OSUT, is basic training, which is normally ten 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 the Forge exercise, and then continue on with their MOS training. Infantry soldiers’ study and practice 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 for various PME (Professional Military Education) schools. Sergeants, return to attend an eight week Advanced Leaders Course, Staff Sergeants, return again for a 10 week Senior Leaders Course. 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 years of service they return on a permanent change of station (PCS) to attend a six month Captains Career Course. 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. On a training exercise on the Salisbury Plain in England we were to dig foxholes and set up a defense. Immediately under the grass, on Salisbury Plain in England, is chalk, it was like trying to dig in concrete, with a fold out entrenching tool. Our engineers brought in a backhoe and scoped out foxholes. Then it rained for two days and the holes became lakes. 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. There are also separate engineer battalions and brigades, and Ranger battalions have a few combat engineers. Two of the ten sergeants on a Special Forces A Detachment are combat engineers, but they go through a lot more kinky training to become a Green Beret.
Combat Engineers carry things into combat and field training exercises that the infantry doesn’t, such as lots of C4 explosive, lots of det cord, blasting caps, duct tape, and even IV bags, which are used to make a water impulse explosive, to open a door. Engineers will blow holes in an enemy’s defensive perimeter so the infantry can run through and attack. They will also put up concertina wire and help the infantry construct defensive positions. If necessary, the engineers can call in help, such as backhoes and bulldozers, and temporary bridges. The engineers may build a better defensive position than the infantry, but the infantry will utilize it better, although they overlap, each are experts in different attributes of engaging the enemy.
After the 14 week engineer OSUT, 12B’s go directly to a combat engineer unit. Hopefully, they go to airborne school first and go to an airborne combat engineer unit. The 82nd Airborne Division has three engineer battalions, one in each Brigade Combat Team (BCT), plus there is the airborne 27th Engineer Battalion on Fort Bragg, under XVIII Airborne Corps. There is one battalion in the 173rd Airborne Brigade at Vicenza, Italy, and one in the 4th BCT (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division at Anchorage, Alaska.
Combat Engineers are combat troops, they do not have a “job” to go to after PT in the morning. A typical day for a 12B, in garrison, is PT (physical training) first, then personal hygiene, get in uniform, eat breakfast, then be in formation around 8:45 to 9:00 AM. Then to what ever training is on for the day. Combat Engineers, infantry, armor, and artillery train. Combat Engineers get to blow up a lot of stuff.
Advancement in rank in Combat Engineers is not quite as fast as in the infantry, but pretty good. A hard worker should make Sergeant within around three years.
Belle, Missouri’s own, Jeremy Compton has made a career of being an Army Engineer, and is now at the pinnacle of rank, in the Army. He is currently the Command Sergeant Major of the 46th Engineer Battalion at Fort Polk, Louisiana.
The US Army Corps of Engineers is a proud and respected corps.