Building, Bridging, Breaching
172nd Inf. Bde. forges training partnerships with Bundeswehr Engineers

By Sgt. Charles D. Crail, 172nd Infantry Brigade Public Affairs
Aug. 25, 2010

HEIDELBERG, Germany -- In World War II, they dashed across the Ludendorff Bridge under heavy enemy fire, breaching the final obstacle into the heart of the Third Reich, symbolically marking the end of the war in Europe.

Today they cross a different bridge erected by a partner unit from the German Bundeswehr who just two short decades ago began building a bridge to unite the two halves of Germany’s divided military.

The 9th Engineer Battalion, 172nd Infantry Brigade and the 701st Panzer Pioneer Battalion displayed their ability to work hand in hand for distinguished visitors, Aug. 24, by conducting a bridge building exercise, here.

Observers of the training included Minister of Defense of Germany Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg and Philip D. Murphy, U.S. Ambassador to Germany.

“This is all very impressive,” said Guttenberg while speaking to a group of American and German Soldiers at the base of the expansion bridge.

A simple assessment not lost on the base level Soldiers and leaders.

“It has been a great chance for us to build a partnership with the Bundeswehr,” said Sgt. William Satchell, squad leader, 9th Eng. Bn., 172nd Inf. Bde. when speaking about the training rewards at the squad level. “The most rewarding aspect for me is to get the chance to train with them and learn about their culture.”

The partnership training between the 172nd and 701st began with the leadership sitting down to discuss how best to bring the units and their capabilities together.

“We decided to start the training with a BBQ,” Lt. Col. Kurt Dannenberg, commander, 701st Pz. Pi. Bn., said. “We wanted to integrate the units not just at the officer level, but also at the Soldier level.”

The integration at the Soldier level was the key to the success of the training, Lt. Col. Jayson Gilberti, commander, 9th Eng. Bn., 172nf Inf. Bde. said.

The five days of partnership training are focusing on the “Three B’s” of combat engineering: building, bridging and breaching, Gilberti added.

Whether the training involves breaching charges, live fire training or building a bridge to cross a 70-ton M1A1 Abrams tank over a river, the engineers from both nations were able to share experiences from operations across the globe.

“Training with them has been a great experience for me, across the board,” Spc. Jonathan Smals, 9th Eng. Bn., 172nd Inf. Bde. said. “I have a lot of experience I can bring to the table for them, and they have a lot to bring to the table for me to learn from.”

Smals returned less than a year ago from a combat deployment to Iraq where he piloted an M-9 Armored Combat Earthmover for the 172nd Inf. Bde..

From their end of the table, the 701st Pz. Pi. Bn. brought their experience from operations in Afghanistan, where they were the first Bundeswehr engineer battalion to serve 12 consecutive months as part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.

Ultimately, the success of operations in the modern world requires partnership training between nations.

“No one goes it alone,” said Ambassador Murphy. “The more closely, the more frequent our training, the more we will be able to succeed in trying situations like Afghanistan.”

Murphy said, the capabilities of the 172nd Inf. Bde., and other European based units like it, is critical to continuing this sort of training. He added that the partnership training shown by the 172nd Inf. Bde. is a great example of the benefits..