Military engineers are essential in combat support roles and for rebuilding damaged infrastructure. The paths the military takes are often influenced by what engineers can facilitate, whether it's crossing a river or navigating a previously damaged roadway. It's very common to see the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers active during peacetime operations as well, repairing damaged flood levees and fixing bridges. In any environment, military engineers often directly influence the outcome.
Paving the Way
Tanks and transportation vehicles, not surprisingly, move faster when navigating over smoother roadways. Engineers help to not only construct this transportation infrastructure, they can repair older or damaged roads. After combat action, engineers also help with rebuilding damaged highways and streets caused by bombs and shells. This proves critical in gaining "hearts and minds" support in foreign countries where infrastructure was damaged during military campaigns.
Tanks, ships and even invading infantry often encounter enemy-placed obstacles, such as mines, tank traps and other barriers used to impede progress. Military engineers are there to remove and disable these impediments when simple bombing cannot do a thorough enough job. During World War II, engineers were instrumental in repairing bridges the enemy destroyed to prevent access to major strategic locations, such as key cities and airfields.
There is a specialized segment of military engineers called sappers, a colloquial term applied to engineers who also actively engage in offensive operations on the battlefield. Sappers, or combat engineers, are famously known for placing charges on enemy fortifications, armaments and bridges, reducing the enemy's ability to fight and move. Sappers have been used in various military operations since the dawn of warfare, constructing trenches to avoid enemy fire while bringing forces closer to the enemy's position. Combat engineers also actively lay and defuse minefields, moving friendly forces forward while actively preventing opposing forces from doing the same.
Army engineers are not limited to wartime operations. During the spring and summer when flood conditions are prevalent in much of the country, the Army Corps of Engineers is instrumental in rebuilding levees and assisting in repairing damaged bridges and buildings. The Corps works with various federal, state and local agencies to repair and rebuild these important installations, attempting to restore normalcy to affected populations. The Corps also dredges riverbeds during periods of drought, enabling vessels to continue to pass along waterways.
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