Combat engineers adapt to COVID-19 environment

Article / September 9, 2020 / Project number: 20-0107

Note: to view additional photos, click the photo under Image Gallery.

By Lieutenant (Navy) Andrew McLaughlin, 31 Canadian Brigade Group

London, Ontario — Members of 31 Combat Engineer Regiment (31 CER) have overcome limits imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic by running virtual exercises.

Combining hands-on training with physical distancing, Exercise CYBORG SAPPER allowed  a group of combat engineers, or “sappers,” from 31 CER, to fulfill Individual Battle Task Standard (IBTS) and mandatory training requirements.

It included both theoretical and practical elements, including Non-Standard Bridge (NSB) parts and construction methods.

“The basis of the exercise was to allow hands-on, distance learning for our sappers who have not yet built a real NSB,” said Master Warrant Officer Arthur Churcher, Squadron Sergeant Major of 7 Engineer Squadron. “The model kits seen in the pictures were produced from materials on hand at the garrison by members of the regiment. The kits were distributed to the sappers with contactless delivery, so that there would be minimal contact between members.”

The sappers constructed the bridges at home after classroom lectures delivered through WebEx, a digital platform used by the Canadian Armed Forces for distance learning.

Participants also studied and applied the Sheffield Method for destruction of bridges using explosives.

“When the after-action review was conducted, the soldiers were ecstatic with the fact that they were able to continue hands-on training,” MWO Churcher explained. “The following day, sappers had a quick refresher on demolitions to include charge preparation, firing circuits, and an introductory class on the Sheffield Method.”

The Sheffield Method is used to destroy bridges using the most economical methods, and participants prepared their bridges for simulated explosive charges, laid out their firing circuits, and submitted pictures by email for review.

31 CER is an Army Reserve unit of 31 Canadian Brigade Group, and consists of two Ontario squadrons: 7 Engineer Squadron in St. Thomas and 48 Engineer Squadron in Waterloo.

The Elgins have deployed to places like Iraq and Ukraine, and sent personnel and equipment to aid Canadian communities during natural disasters. Combat engineers’ unique skills are critical to operations like the 2019 flood relief efforts in the Ottawa region, where the regiment rapidly deployed sappers and various pieces of heavy equipment.

Staying ready for these missions isn’t always easy for an Army Reserve unit, but especially so during a pandemic.

“Bridging is critical annual Engineer Battle Task training,” said MWO Churcher, “and this situation demonstrated that we needed to adapt to ensure readiness.”

Adapting isn’t new for the sappers of 31 CER, he added.

“In previous years, 31 CER has quickly produced plans to load and move mobile bridges on our trucks. We’ve also conducted actual bridge builds in various locations.”

The myriad challenges that arose during CYBORG SAPPER provided valuable lessons-learned for the next time distance learning is required, as issues related to the use of available technology were reported and reviewed.

The unique exercise demonstrated these combat engineers’ perseverance and adaptability; traits often associated with the sapper ethos.

“The objective for the exercise was to complete mandatory briefings, learn how to build an NSB and simulate blowing it up,” said MWO Churcher. “All of these objectives were achieved, while our sappers had a little fun along the way.”

To comment on this article, visit the Canadian Army's Facebook Notes

Date modified: