COMBAT OUTPOST RAWAH, Iraq --
Smoke filled the sky and shrapnel pierced targets as Marines with 1st Combat Engineer Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 5 detonated various explosives on a range near Combat Outpost Rawah December 17.
The range gave the combat engineers a chance to refresh their demolition detonation and preparation skills during their deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“If you don’t use it, you lose it,” said Cpl. Matthew J. Leuthold, 22, a team leader with 1st CEB from Darrtown, Ohio, referring to engineer skills. “The purpose was to give the junior Marines the opportunity to train and retain the knowledge they were taught in the States.”
The combat engineers, who are here supporting Task Force 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, RCT-5, discharged four different types of explosives over the course of three detonations. The explosives included C4, shape charges, platter charges and grape shots – a type of field expedient claymore.
“(The engineers here) haven’t had a chance to go out and actually do (demolitions) in Iraq, so it gives them a chance to go out and refresh their skills,” 1st Lt. Paul Cleland, 25, platoon commander, 1st CEB.
By allowing the junior Marines to have more hands-on experience, they were able to improve their technical skills for preparation of explosives and learn what it takes to set up an effective demolition.
“(It gave the Marines the) confidence in their skills to be able to go out there and execute some demolition training by themselves,” Cleland said. “Squad leaders and (noncommissioned officers) ran it by themselves; even some of the lance corporals were stepping up.”
Safety was paramount as the Marines prepared their explosives. Timed fuses and safe distances kept the Marines as far away from the explosion as possible to keep the damages solely on the targets.
“At (Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center) 29 Palms, (Calif.), everything is closely regulated and it doesn’t allow the chance to make a mistake, because you’ve got so many different things going on,” said Cleland, who is from Canton, Ohio.
In Iraq, the Marines mimic those same precautions with safety briefs and close supervision.
The demolition range was the first of a number of exercises the combat engineers plan to execute throughout the deployment to keep them proficient at their jobs while Iraqi Security Forces maintain control of Iraq’s security.
“I would say it’s good that we have the opportunities to do ranges in Iraq, because it shows that we’re making steps toward peace in this country and we have time to do training rather than go out and fight,” said Leuthold.
“We’re planning on doing a final range in February, and this is just one of those building blocks to get us there,” said Cleland.
In the meantime, the engineers will continue maintaining force protection and helping the rest of the battalion find weapons caches and improvised explosive devices.