DJIBOUTI, AFRICA -- Ask a Marine combat engineer how to best get through an obstacle and he won’t likely tell you to move it or go around it. “Through it!” is probably the most common answer – and chances are you’ll get rocked by a mind-numbing explosion followed by a “what obstacle?”
Combat engineers assigned to Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, recently took a break from ship life and went ashore in Djibouti, Africa, to play with things that go boom. Throughout the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit’s pre-deployment work-ups, the engineers seized every opportunity to take their toys out to the ranges to practice building charges. Regular drills are necessary to ensure that when they hear “Engineers up!” they’ll be able to quickly assess the problem and sort it out, regardless of location or weather conditions.
“The demolitions shoot in Djibouti was an opportunity for us to test our demolitions and different types of explosives in an extreme hot-weather climate, and see if and how they would react to the hot weather,” said Sgt Joel Yeager, a combat engineer assigned to BLT 1/8 and a native of Edmond, Okla. “I wanted my guys to get good hands-on experience with the demolitions (and) to get comfortable using these shots in hot weather if we end up going to Iraq; I (also) wanted them to be comfortable setting up demolitions in the heat with all of their gear.”
Engineers are most often called on to provide urban demolitions, usually in a combat situation in which infantrymen are faced with a man-made structure or obstacle they aren’t able to traverse or move, said Lance Cpl. Nathan Flagg, a combat engineer assigned to BLT 1/8.
“Urban demolitions are primarily designed for the entrance into houses, and a lot of the shots are smaller shots,” said Flagg, referring to the charges used to destroy obstacles. “A lot of the shots only use detonator cord or a very small bit of C-4 and they don’t include very much TNT or dynamite,” added the Brentwood, N.H., native.
The engineers were literally hit in the face with Djibouti -- in the form of 115-degree heat -- followed by afternoons under the blistering sun plying their craft. They were being asked to work effectively in conditions that most of the engineers who have not yet deployed hadn’t experienced until Djibouti, explained Flagg.
“It was pretty much miserably hot in Djibouti, but we worked through it. It was good training and acclimatization to the heat. Very few of us had ever been in heat like that,” he said. “We have a lot of Marines in our platoon who have been to Iraq, are experienced, and have done a good job getting us ready to go into Iraq if that need arises. I feel fully confident that we would be able do our job efficiently in Iraq and hope to get the chance to go.”
The engineers are essentially “jacks-of-all-trades” when it comes to their operational assets, supporting their Marines with mine detecting, construction projects and a host of combat capabilities, said Lance Cpl. Bobby Guzman, a combat engineer assigned to BLT 1/8.
“It’s not just demo,” added Guzman. “It’s a lot of things: mine detecting, mine laying, different types of construction, bridging; but right now our main focus is the demolitions.”
Regardless of their future, the combat engineers assigned to the 24th MEU really are living the dream – grown men playing with explosives.
“I tell people that I do every little boy’s dream,” explained Flagg. “I blow stuff up. Instead of using firecrackers or M-80’s now, I’m using big stuff and making stuff go ‘BOOM!’”
The 24th MEU is currently at the midpoint of their scheduled six-month deployment to the Central Command theater of operation. The MEU is composed of its Command Element; Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 365 (Reinforced); BLT 1/8; and MEU Service Support Group 24.