MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER, TWENTYNINE PALMS, CALIF. - -- Lance Cpl. Keith Shaffer watches nervously as the valley around him turns into orchestrated chaos. He kneels, alert, behind a bush as his squad screams at each other and gives cover fire. Shaffer sees the signal and dashes forward ahead of all the others in the deep trench, twirling a grappling hook over his head. Finally he dives, head-first, releasing the hook, sending it sailing over the rock bed in front of him. The short figure slowly begins reeling the rope back while still lying face down in the dirt.
Shaffer, a combat engineer with Company A, 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 2, clears a mock minefield and gives the signal that all is clear. The platoon quickly proceeds toward their objective.
The company kicked off their Mojave Viper training with squad assaults here in the Mojave Desert. Mojave Viper is the name given to the month-long pre-deployment training given to Marines who are deploying to Iraq. The desert provides Marines with realistic simulations of experiences they will encounter on their upcoming deployment in March.
The training simulated a realistic assault through several trenches and bunkers filled with pop-up dummies to imitate insurgents. The platoon started in a deep trench at the bottom of a hill, and gradually attacked upward until they encountered a mock minefield and wire barricade. This is where the engineers began to take care of business.
“This is what they train for, it (training) doesn’t get any more realistic than this,” 1st Sgt. Anthony Cruz, the company’s first sergeant, explained as one of the engineers rushed past Shaffer to lay a long wooden board across a concertina wire, or c-wire, barrier.
After the engineers cleared the minefield and wire, the platoon spilled into an open area and began to spread out and fire on insurgent entrenchments. As each round found its mark, they slowly climbed the hill.
The training came to a close as the Marines split up in order to overtake three reinforced trenches and clear all of the pop-up targets. One squad climbed a nearby hill to provide cover fire as the other two squads separated, and surrounded the target. A final assault from rifles, squad automatic weapons, and 240-G machine guns ended the training exercise.
Combat engineers do much more than clear obstacles; they are also responsible for demolition and fabrication of combat structures.
“We also do trade work, benches or shelves in exchange for stuff like equipment or other things,” said the Vancouver, Wash., native.
Shaffer says this type of exchange is essential to improving morale and building teamwork within a unit. The trade work also provides small comforts for troops who spend up to 12 months several thousand miles from home.
At the end of the training evolution, the Marines gather their gear and begin to pack up; looking forward to the next training event before their deployment. The engineers gather their ropes and boards and start to walk down the hill, struggling with the weight of their gear. Only a few moments pass before three Marines rush over and begin to help.
“Teamwork is essential because every job we do can’t be done by one single person,” Shaffer said.