FORT A.P. HILL, Va. -- "If you put this charge along the beams of a bridge, you can weaken the bridge. The first time a tank rolls over it … kurplunk … now you’ve taken out a bridge and the tank."
The air was charged with excitement as Combat Logistic Battalion 26, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, Marines cut and shaped explosives during Realistic Urban Training at Fort Pickett, Va., June 9.
Engineer Marines experimented with these explosives, keeping notes and pictures to document what worked and what didn’t, while explosive ordnance disposal Marines supervised and assisted with safety precautions.
"One of the training standards is overcoming obstacles to increase mobility and counter-mobility," said Staff Sgt. Justin Westmoreland, staff noncommissioned officer in charge of Engineer Detachment. "Today we are experimenting, doing the mathematics and recording data." The training is essential to ensuring 26th MEU maintains the ability to shape any challenging environment in its upcoming deployment.
They used several different types of obstacles that Marines might encounter – steel beams, chain-link fences, doors and cement. One Marine also used charges to build a fighting hole.
"The Marines are testing the ability to identify targets and assess how to remove or destroy them," said 1st Lt. Mitchel Spidel, the engineers' officer-in-charge. "We are here to increase the MEU commander’s mobility by eliminating, destroying or overcoming obstacles that can hinder his overall mission."
Master Sgt. Randall Scwandt, EOD staff noncommissioned officer in charge, explained that sometimes the goal is not to destroy an obstacle, but make it possible to go through it. For example, while a large vehicle could overrun a fence, sometimes it's not a good idea to go blazing over it because the fence could get caught in and under the vehicle, Scwandt said..
The engineer Marines said they found this training extremely important.
"This is a great learning experience," said Cpl. Ethan Tobias, a combat engineer. Tobias and his fellow engineers will support 26th MEU operations when the unit deploys in the fall.
Tobias added that having the EOD Marines present was also key.
"They deal with this more often and have way more experience," he said. "They can teach us the tricks of the trade."
One trick was crimping the blasting cap onto the fuse while holding it behind their backs. Because too much pressure could set off the blasting cap, the technique is dangerous, but would be less damaging than if it went off in front of them. The exploding cap can burn the eyes and throw shards of metal into the Marines' faces.
"If it goes off, it's better to burn the rear than the eyes," said Gunnery Sgt. Brad Rickabaugh, an EOD Marine.
Once the Marines had their charges built and fuses inserted, they walked down the range to find adequate targets.
The 10-acre range is tiered to give a better view of the targets and allows for more safety, said Tim Casey the range control inspector.
Once the Marines arrived on the second tier they began looking for their targets. One Marine found a battered door that was perfect for his explosive, shaped to take off the door handle.
Another Marine found a section of a chain link fence, which he used a string of explosives to rip it in half.
After each Marine found what he was looking for, they linked the charges together to set them off simultaneously.
"I think this was a very productive training evolution," said Spidel. "Everything went pretty smooth and I think all of the Marines are walking away from here a little bit more confident in their abilities."