Soldiers of 84th Engineer Support Company (Airborne) and 23rd Engineer Company (Sapper) (Airborne) detonate a mine-clearing line charge at Donnelly Training Area earlier this month. (U.S. Army video still courtesy of 6th Engineer Battalion)
JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska —
One rocket, 1,700 pounds of C-4 on a string, a platoon of Sappers, Army combat engineers, and a firing pin could be the key to clearing a pathway for the mission during Operation Tundra Wolf II at the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex May 10.
"Conducting home-station training at the JPARC allows us the opportunity to integrate all of our organic battalion capabilities to conduct the mission," said Army Lt. Col. Marc Hoffmeister, 6th Engineer Battalion (Combat) (Airborne) commander. "Everything from the sustainment provided by our forward support company to draw, transport, and secure the explosives to the battalion level staff planning with the maneuver forces to employ the system to the Sappers on the ground detonating the charge."
The JPARC is the only training area outside of the National Training Center, Fort Irwin, Calif., or Joint Readiness Training Center, Fort Polk, La., that provides the Army with the ability to detonate an explosive of this size and type and to do so as a part of a live-fire exercise.
Soldiers with 6th Eng. and the Alaska Army National Guard's 297th Battlefield Surveillance Brigade, combined forces for participation in this annual training prior to their deployments.
"Training with the Alaska National Guard provides us an incredible joint, multi-echelon training experience," Hoffmeister said. "This is invaluable in both training our battalion for combat operations overseas as well building relationships and an understanding of capabilities to help us to respond together in the event of a natural disaster here at home in Alaska."
One resource that is used is the mine-clearing line charge, also called a MICLIC, for clearing lanes of mines or improvised explosive devices. This explosive is rarely used in training, but it is required that all combat engineers be certified on it before deploying for a route-clearance mission. The MICLIC is a rocket-propelled explosive that provides an essential mobility capability for U.S. forces in the field.
"What happens is a rocket with a lot of C-4 tied to the back the rocket is fired off the back of a trailer into a mine field. When the charges that are on it land on the ground, it's detonated," said 2nd Lt. Evan Nelson, 3rd Platoon leader, 84th Engineer Support Company (Airborne), 6th Eng. "That detonation either causes a sympathetic detonation of mines or it blows them out of the way. Basically this creates a path for other maneuver forces to travel through that mine field safely."
This is the first time that the MICLIC has been used in Alaska. This type of training has previously been relegated to two other locations, NTC and JRTC. Special permissions from the Department of the Army had to be obtained to get the munitions to use in Alaska due to the risks involved.
"With any demolitions training there are risks," said 1st Lt. Mark Rice, Assistant S-3 training officer with 6th Eng. "We try to mitigate these risks as much as possible. Our focus is always on the safety of the Soldiers conducting the training. However, there were some environmental risks involved as well."
With the help of Fort Greely Range Control, the engineers prepared for the potential of starting and fighting a wildfire as well as some unique wildlife restrictions.
"Right now, the wild buffalo are caving in one of the areas we wanted to execute our training event," Rice said. "We've had to adjust our plan in order to accommodate them and not disturb them with the noise caused by a pretty big boom."
For about two-week rotations, Soldiers will learn skills that will be needed for success in the field. Route clearance support is the mission this battalion has been tasked for during their deployment to Afghanistan. Soldiers from multiple career fields are participating in organized scenarios that will ultimately train them for what they may face out on the battlefield.
"The exercise is part of our normal training schedule," Rice said. "It does stand out as a sort of culminating event in that it provides us the opportunity to work all of the facets of our battalion's capabilities at once. It also tests the abilities of our headquarters and staff sections in exercising our combat functions while still requiring us to complete our normal garrison duties."