13th MEU (SOC) BLT 2/1 Engineers conduct ‘explosive’ training in Australian Outback

19 Aug 2005 | Cpl. Andy Hurt

On a blazing hot afternoon in the rugged Australian Outback, A Marine yells “Fifteen seconds!” The command is echoed and followed by a chorus of “Fire in the hole!” The countdown continues before an enormous blast shakes the earth. A mushroom cloud looms over the horizon and cheers ring out from Marines hidden behind a berm. “If something’s in the way, we move it,” says Sgt. John Cheze.Cheze, a squad leader with Engineers Platoon, Battalion Landing Team, 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines, is one of a few Marines critical to the mission of assaulting and clearing objectives in the midst of battle-- a task set aside for those courageous enough to carry the title “combat engineer.”Assigned to BLT 2/1 line companies, the Marines from 1st Combat Engineer Battalion, 1st Marine Division, have become vital to the mission of the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable), currently underway on a Western Pacific deployment.Utilizing tools such as Composition-4, Composition-B, trinitrotoluene (TNT) and satchel charges, the mission of the engineers is simple. “Anything that’s in the way, like a minefield, or even a door-- anything that keeps Marines from moving forward on the objective-- we move it,” said Cheze. “If they (encounter) a minefield, how in the world are they going to get through it without us?” The Roland, Okla., native said the individual tasks of engineers may vary greatly, and while they have certain tasks exclusive to the engineering field, most of their training is focused on supporting the infantry companies and improving basic combat skills.“While we’re attached to the line companies, most of the training we do is oriented toward the ‘03’ (rifleman) field.”During the training evolution ‘down under’, however, a demolition range was designated for the engineers to train Marines from other military occupational specialties on how to support the engineering mission.Cheze gave classes on the basic components of demolition, fuse timing and safety, and also assisted Marines during a practical application session, rigging different charges.First Lieutenant Daniel Ponzo, commander, Engineering Platoon, was also on hand at the range instructing Marines in the various tactics of demolition, and said that although his Marines were receiving rare and valuable training, it was the infantrymen who were benefiting the most.“For us, this is a refresher, but we’re enabling (infantrymen) to be more efficient by teaching them basic demolition,” said the Long Island, N.Y., native. Ponzo added that although more technical ranges were planned further along in the deployment to give the engineers a better chance to flex their muscle, the subject matter covered in Australia was of no small importance. Speaking from experience gained during Operation Iraqi Freedom, Ponzo said that familiarizing the Marines with tools and equipment, along with the feel of a five-brick TNT blast, was a good step in preparing them for challenges they may face on the battlefield. “I think the (riflemen) benefited the most from this because they rarely have a chance to get their hands on (specialized explosives). Now, if they see it (in battle), they have a better understanding.”Lance Cpl. Marco Palos, combat engineer, BLT 2/1, said that since joining the unit in December 2004 before pre-deployment work-ups, there has been a huge effort to build respect within the unit consisting mostly of young riflemen.“At first, it was hard because the grunts didn’t know what we did, and they pretty much ignored us,” said Palos, a native of Norwalk, Calif. “But at (Training in an Urban Environment), we got tasked as security and helped them out. We did one good thing, and that’s when we got our foot in the door,” he said. “After that, the ball started rolling.”Palos explained that throughout the work-up cycle, the engineers were given the opportunity to prove themselves as assets in regards to basic combat tactics, like patrolling, directing fire and leading Marines, and have earned respect amongst BLT 2/1 Marines. “You gotta hustle and flow with them. You give respect, and you get respect. They really make us feel like we’re right at home.”For more information about the Engineering Platoon and the Warriors of the Fighting 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable), visit the unit’s Web site at www.usmc.mil/13thmeu.
13th Marine Expeditionary Unit