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Alaska Sappers train on forced entry ops

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The 6th Engineer Battalion (Combat) (Airborne) honed its operational skills in an exercise at Alaska's Donnelly Training Area last month dubbed Operation Boreal Wolverine.

"This operation was designed to test the collective capabilities of our battalion to provide phased engineer support to forced entry operations," Lt. Col. Marc Hoffmeister, commander of the 6th Engineer Battalion, said.

"It was a short, but intense, demonstration of our ability to rapidly project combat power, gain forcible entry into a non-permissive environment, and apply the full spectrum of engineer capabilities to expand the lodgment and enable the air landing of follow-on forces," said Hoffmeister.

Weather conditions limited what was air dropped and the airborne assault was ultimately cancelled. Paratroopers were air landed at Allen Army Airfield and transported to the objective through ground transportation. From there, the operation continued as planned.

The 23rd Engineer Company (Sapper) (Airborne) led the initial assault, with the responsibility of seizing an important objective containing the bulk of enemy forces.

The 84th Engineer Support Company (Airborne) also had a significant role during the initial push, providing one platoon to serve as the battalion's reserve force and another platoon to engage and destroy a known enemy position.

After security was established, the operation entered into its next phase.

Elements of the 23rd Engineer Company began clearing a landing strip, looking for natural and man-made obstacles and removing mock land mines.

The 84th ESC repaired damage to the airfield, which was then assessed and deemed capable of receiving aircraft to bring in follow-on forces.

"Within a short period of time, our Sappers successfully seized a large objective, destroyed an enemy platoon, cleared the flight landing strip, conducted rapid runway repairs, and began transitioning for the next phase in the operation," Maj. Otis Register, executive officer for the 6th Engineer Battalion, said.

The next phase of Operation Boreal Wolverine involved building a combat outpost to house, protect, and sustain the increasing flow of additional forces.

The 56th Engineer Company (Vertical) led this phase of the operation, taking on three of the outpost's four construction projects.

"Our assigned mission was to construct a SEA (Southeast Asia) hut, a guard tower and an entry control point," Capt. Melbourne Arledge, 56th Engineer Company commander, said.

The Vertical Construction Platoon from the Headquarters and Headquarters Company was assigned to construct an observation post on a hill with direct line of sight over the entire objective area.

The 84th ESC cleared and grubbed the ground to ensure a stable construction surface for all four of the projects. The company also dispatched continuous convoys to a nearby borough pit to transport gravel to fill HESCO barriers.

To sustain the battalion, the Forward Support Company conducted two supply sling load operations with UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters.

All of the construction projects were fully complete by the fifth day of the operation.

"In addition to being a critical effort in the scenario, the construction projects will have usefulness for other units conducting training at the Donnelly Training Area," Arledg said.

Although vertical construction operations were the main focus during this phase of the operation, security was still critical. The combat outpost was attacked with indirect fire by an enemy retaliating for the loss of key terrain, according to the intelligence officer.

The 23rd Engineer Company (Sapper) (Airborne) established a defensive perimeter around the outpost with concertina wire, defensive fighting positions and sectors of fire assigned to provide interlocking fields of fire.

In addition to the main entry control point being constructed by the 56th Engineer Company (Vertical), two hasty entry control points were established to secure avenues of approach into the Combat Outpost.

Five key leader engagements were conducted over two days with Soldier playing the roles of Afghan tribal elders. The objective of these meetings was two-fold, according to Register.

"We wanted to teach our platoon leaders the importance of shaping the human terrain in any forced entry operation where the local population is not accustomed to U.S. military presence," Register said. "Additionally, [Key Leader Engagements] are a practical way to expose our Soldiers to Afghan culture."

On the fourth day of the operation, about 30 Soldiers from the 23rd Engineer Company (Sapper) (Airborne) conducted an airmobile raid at the Bondsteel Complex, northwest of the Donnelly Training Area, to kill or capture a "high value individual". The raid, involving explosives breaching in an urban environment, resulted in nine enemy personnel killed and four detainees, all role-played by Soldiers.

First Lt. Megan Hedman, platoon leader in 84th ESC, was conducting a key leader engagement when she received confirmation that the 23rd Engineer Company (Sapper) (Airborne) had successfully targeted the high value individual at Bondsteel Complex.

"The success of the airmobile raid at Bondsteel quickly gained the attention of the tribes and demonstrated our military strength," Hedman said.

Hedman's successful key leader engagement was a pivotal moment during the operation, according to Hoffmeister.

"With the enemy network severely degraded following the initial assault and the airmobile raid, the tide had turned," Hoffmeister said. "The Afghan tribes gradually became convinced of our determination to protect them, symbolized by our ongoing construction of the [combat outpost], and our determined pursuit of the enemy."

When all four construction projects were complete, the Arctic Sappers declared the combat outpost to be ready to receive incoming forces. With that report, the Arctic Sappers began redeployment preparations just in time for a well-deserved weekend.

"I am extremely proud of our Sappers," Hoffmeister said. "This was an incredibly complex operation involving multiple lines of effort executed simultaneously that stretched our resources to the limit. I can say with absolute confidence that this battalion is ready for any mission requiring the rapid deployment of engineer capabilities as part of a larger infantry task force to seize an objective in a non-permissive environment."

Article by Capt. James Kwoun/6th Engineer Battalion