MARINE CORPS BASE TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. -- “Five, four, three, two, one,” is heard over the radio from a Marine inside the confines of an amphibious assault vehicle. Marines at a reasonable distance remain prone during the countdown and anxiously wait to feel the shock of an inevitable explosion.
A charge is detonated, sending a plume of smoke, dust and debris into the open air. The shockwave harmlessly rushes over the prone Marines. Moments later the alarming explosion is heard and the dust cloud, stretching hundreds of feet above the ground, is all that remains from the controlled detonation.
During their training at Mojave Viper, Marines with 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion, attached to 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, trained with M58 mine clearing line charges here Nov. 5. The charges are employed to blast a passable route through an otherwise impassable minefield.
“A line charge (is) one of the larger tasks the combat engineers do,” said 1st Lt. Justin D. Hunter, 4th platoon commander with Company C, CEB. “Breaching mine fields, detonating (improvised explosive devices) or booby traps is the main reason we conduct this type of charge.”
The MICLIC is a rocket-projected explosive line charge that provides a close-in breaching capability for ground forces. When detonated, it provides a lane eight meters wide by 100 meters in length.
The MICLIC system is comprised of a tracked trailer chassis, launcher assembly, M147 firing kit, M58A3 line charge and a 5-inch MK22 Mod 4 rocket. The charge spans over 350 feet long and contains five pounds per linear foot of composition four explosive, more commonly known as C-4. The entire system weighs in at approximately 1,750 pounds.
“A line charge can be used when a path needs to be cleared for the Marines who are needed in the fight,” said Sgt. Brandon W. Blakley, a combat engineer and squad leader with CEB. “Anything in its path will be destroyed. Do I need to recommend that if one of these is near, you better be someplace else?”
Each squad rotated through the entire process of using the MICLIC by moving to a position designated by the breaching force commander, setting up the line charge and loading into the AAVs that towed the trailer of prepared C-4 to the point of the breach, where the rockets were eventually fired for detonation.
“We can’t do this kind of training at (Camp) Lejeune,” admitted Cpl. Joshua A. Erb, combat engineer and assistant squad leader with CEB. “Actually performing the (detonation) was better than simply talking about it. This training gave some of our newer Marines, who have never seen this kind of charge, some experience how to operate during this kind of mechanized breaching.”
The day of instruction was successful, however, complications occurred during one particular effort the Marines had after launching the rocket.
After counting down, the charge didn’t detonate. After multiple attempts, the Marines followed every precaution and order of operations to facilitate the detonation of the failed line charge. Exiting the AAV, Marines with blocks of C-4 slowly approached the line charge. Like testing temperature in a swimming pool, the combat engineers spread one leg out to the charge to ensure static electricity wouldn’t be a concern of an accidental detonation.
After strapping the carried C-4 around the line charge, a timed fuse was added to the equation. With over 10 minutes before the fuse reached its unavoidable end, the Marines returned back to the AAV with little worry.
Minutes later, the charge liberated itself with a display of shaking earth and dust to show its authoritative control over the situation.
“The goal of a combat engineer is direct support for the (infantry),” explained Blakley. “If we can clear a safe path for the assault force to reach the objective, then we are doing something right.”