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MWSS-473 trains in obstacle breaching during Maple Flag 50

By 2nd Lt. Stephanie Leguizamon, Marine Corps Forces Reserves

COLD LAKE, AB, Can. --

Marines with Engineer Company, Detachment Bravo, Marine Wing Support Squadron 473, 4th Marine Aircraft Wing, Marine Forces Reserve, trained in obstacle breaching as part of exercise Maple Flag 50, May 28, 2017.

The Marines used field expedient Bangalore torpedoes to clear an abatis created by Canadian Armed Forces members at the Primrose Lake Evaluation Range, a training area to the north of 4 Wing and Canadian Forces Base Cold Lake and part of the larger Cold Lake Air Weapons Range which straddles the Alberta-Saskatchewan border.

An abatis is an obstacle formed by felling trees in such a manner as the trees fall interlocked, pointing at a 30-degree angle towards the direction of approach of the enemy. Especially when fortified with wire entanglements and other obstacles, an abatis can present a menacing improvised anti-tank obstacle.

A Bangalore torpedo is an explosive charge placed within one or several connected tubes allowing Marine engineers to clear paths through wire obstacles, heavy undergrowth and, in this case, an abatis approximately 60 feet long and 30 feet wide.

Marines gathered in the early afternoon to practice making calculations necessary to ensure the breach was a success before driving from main side 4 Wing Cold Lake to the demolitions range.

“We’ve taken several classes in preparation,” said Cpl. Melvin Clemens, a combat engineer with MWSS-473. “We’ve studied how to time a time-fuse, relative explosive factors, and how to calculate stand-off to ensure we’re a safe distance away from an explosive.”

While an abatis can easily be simulated using lumber, for Marines, training with an actual abatis of felled trees is an extremely rare opportunity. 

“This exercise is awesome,” said Sgt. Michael Nadon, a combat engineer with MWSS-473. “I’ve never had the opportunity to breach an authentic abatis. This is a huge opportunity for the combat engineer community.”

The Marines were accompanied by Canadian Armed forces range staff and augmentees of Maple Flag. Canadian Army Master Corporal Brock Hogan is a reconnaissance patrolman from 3rd Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry. He is augmenting Maple Flag for two weeks and assisted in coordination and transportation of the Marines to the demolition range. 

“I want to learn how the engineers work,” said Hogan. “I can take it back to my guys and we can all work better together, whether we’re Canadian or American.”

Marines learned about creating effective obstacles as well as breaching them. Before the time fuse was ignited 2nd Lt. Kevin Roy, the opposition forces commander for MWSS-473 during Maple Flag and executive officer of Engineering Company, spoke to Marines about thinking critically to make an abatis more effective against enemy forces and creating a defense in depth. 

At 5:45 p.m. Hogan and Lance Cpl. Zachary Hooper, a combat engineer with MWSS-473, ignited the time fuse and everyone retreated to a safe position. Exactly four minutes and 59 seconds later a satisfying blast echoed through the area. When Marines and Canadian troops returned to the blast site the mission was deemed a success.

The training event was made possible thanks to considerable coordination between Canadian range personnel and operations planners. Canadian Army Sergeant Major Mitchell Booker is the Range Operations Master Warrant Officer for the Air Force Tactical Training Centre, 4 Wing Cold Lake, and manages Primrose Lake Evaluation Range. Booker’s team prepared the abatis under his direction and he oversaw the event. 

There are strict safety and environmental protocols to follow on any live fire range. Canadian range personnel were present to ensure Canadian safety protocols were followed and precautions were taken to prevent adverse effects on the environment and surrounding wildlife. An environmental officer here at 4 Wing Cold Lake closely monitors weather conditions and range fire hazard level. 

The MWSS-473 engineers are schedule to repeat the exercise on Sunday increasing the level of difficulty with added fortification to the abatis.
“The Canadians give us huge support,” Nadon said. “They support us with accommodations, food, water and demolitions. They’re true allies.”