MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- The term sapper dates back to the 16th century during the French Wars. It comes from the name of a type of trench, a sappe, dug by engineers to help end the siege of the city or fortress they were assaulting. A French sapeur was thus one who undermined an enemy’s fortifications.
The Marine Corps’ sappers of the 21st century do as they have always done, breaching fortifications and providing a way to combat the enemy. In order to fulfill this mission, some of them are being trained to act as squad leaders. These Marines are challenged mentally and physically, testing their very limits.
Lance Cpl. Jonathan N. Woody is one of about 40 Marines going through a modified sappers course at Engineer Training Area 3 here, which started Aug. 1. Woody, a combat engineer with 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion, is training to be a squad leader.
“We are training here so we can go back to our units and lead the junior Marines,” explained the 2004 Pisgah High School graduate. “This is training our individual units feel is necessary.”
The training is just two weeks, compressed down from the usual four week course. The Marines begin by going on a three mile hike to ETA 3. The Marines are separated into three different squads who will work, live and eat together. The first day is filled with physical training, a physical fitness test, communications classes, and introduction to what instructors for the course call “snakes.”
“The snakes are a part of PT and help to build teamwork within the squad,” said Sgt. Bradley Wood, a course instructor with the battalion. “They provide a different workout than Marines are used to, and requires all of them to work together in order to get the different exercises done.”
Teamwork can be seen in the different exercises the Marines execute. They perform team squats, lift the painted logs above their heads and race the other squads in certain exercises no one man could do by himself. These exercise all play a part in getting the Marines better trained to be a sapper.
Each of the Marines in the squads, named Viper, Cobra and Rattler, will get the chance to be a squad leader. This is done so each man gets a feel for leadership that many Marines have not had.
“A sapper is basically an engineer,” Wood explained. “The point of this course is to challenge these Marines and give them the tools they will need to survive in combat. We want them to be able to lead as well as follow.”
In American history, sappers have played a role in every war this nation has waged. At the Battle of Yorktown, sappers in the Continental Army’s Corps of Engineers and Miners enjoyed their finest hour in October 1781 when General Washington conducted a siege there. The 13 engineer officers of the combined French and American armies performed crucial reconnaissance and planned and constructed field works. The sappers and miners assembled fortification materials, erected gun platforms, transported cannons and ammunition, and cleared the way for the decisive infantry assault on Redoubt 10.
“We are training them for what they will face while deployed,” said Wood. “They are trained in communications, land navigation, various types of breaching, different types of barriers, dealing with improvised explosive devices and a rigorous PT schedule.”
For some, it is a new course, while for others it is only a refresher of knowledge already acquired. The goal is to provide the Marines with tools they will need to face any challenge before them.
“What we’ve seen so far is very demanding,” Woody said. “We’ll all be able to walk away from this course saying we learned something. It prepares Marines for deployment. Everything we’ve done so far will help us when we go over there.”
The real test comes when these Marines deploy.
“Our mission here is to give Marines the tools they need to go into harms way and come back,” said Gunnery Sgt. Ryan H. Thietje, the officer in charge for ETA 3. “We challenge them mentally and physically so they can get a taste of what being deployed is