Combat Engineers Bring Construction, Destruction to Battlefield

Whether it’s building schools or changing the battle space, combat engineers have always been there to pave the way.

Though established as a military profession in 1775, the first combat engineers didn’t see much recognition until the War of 1812, when Army Col. Jonathan Williams, chief of the Army Corps of Engineers, and his successor, Joseph Swift, built expanding fortifications around New York Harbor. This included an 11-pointed fort that is now the base of the Statue of Liberty.

Today, combat engineers bring both constructive capabilities, such as building bunkers and providing utilities; and destructive capabilities, such as demolition and breaching support on the battlefield. This unique combination of capabilities provides knowledge, experience and skills to commanders at the operational and tactical levels with which they can, according to Marine Corps Warfighting Publication 3-34, reduce friction, facilitate maneuver and improve the morale of friendly forces or create friction and disorder for the enemy.

“My favorite thing about being a combat engineer is that my job is so versatile,” said Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Joseph Manzie, who’s assigned to Marine Rotational Force Darwin 18. “I can build schools for communities, or obstacle courses to keep Marines fit to fight. I also have the ability to change battlespace by performing breaches, sweeps and engineer reconnaissance.”

Tackling Obstacles on the Battlefield

Breaching actions are the tactics a unit will execute when it reaches an obstacle. Forces who encounter an obstacle either attempt to bypass it or reduce it.

Sweeps are typically conducted with a compact metal detector to search for materials that may be used against friendly forces or be of intelligence value.

Engineers also perform their own reconnaissance, consisting of methods to obtain information about the activities and resources of an adversary or to secure data.

“It’s always a rush being able to reduce obstacles with explosives,” said Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Johnathan Sacre, combat engineer with MRF-D. “Being a combat engineer is probably one of the best jobs in the Marine Corps. I enjoy every minute of it.”

Combat engineers also enjoy their jobs because it helps them to develop or refine skills that can help them later in their careers, Manzie said.

Manzie, who previously served as a vehicle operator for the Air Force, thought it was time to expand his career from behind the wheel, so he joined the Marine Corps as a combat engineer.

“I selected combat engineering because it was a job that I was able to gain skills from and be combat-oriented,” he said. “I plan on taking my knowledge of demolitions, wood-frame construction and concrete construction with me to future [work].”

Being a combat engineer can be a risky business. Service members in the Middle East rely on combat engineers to detect different kinds of improvised explosive devices. These engineers who take the first steps into mission-critical areas provide intelligence that shapes a safer battlefield for the service members who follow.