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A mine clearing line charge explodes Oct. 10 at the Combat Center during a breaching exercise, which was part of the Combined Arms Exercise known as Steel Knight. Breaching exercises are used to clear mine fields, as well as other types of terrain in a combined arms exercise or maneuver.

Photo by Lance Cpl. M.C. Nerl

Delta Company 1st Tanks breaches the wall

20 Nov 2009 | Lance Cpl. M. C. Nerl

Combining the power and armor of the M1A1 Abrams Main Battle Tank and support from follow-on forces to breach an obstacle and push forward is essential in war fighting.

Both elements support each other because each has the ability to do what the other cannot do in some cases, said Master Sgt. Timothy Tompkins, a tanker with Company D, 1st Tank Battalion, and a native of Kensington, Kan.

The Mine Clearing Line Charge is the largest charge on the ground side of the military, said 2nd Lt. Devin Jewell, a platoon commander with Company A, 3rd Combat Engineer Battalion, and a native of Vestabure, Mich.

“It’s a great experience to breach like that,” Jewell said after an exercise. “You get a chance to make things happen, and that’s what it’s all about in training.”

Breaching is meant to clear obstacles and prepare for a second punch delivered by supporting elements, Tompkins said.

Tompkins elaborated on the different ways the exercise can be performed.

“We can use MCLCs, plows on Assault Breacher Vehicles or on tanks,” he said. “The MCLCs are used to blow up mine fields or berms so those coming behind us can get through safely.”

Different types of terrains are traversed and several obstacles may be set up and overcome by using each of the techniques, he said.

“We can use any of our methods to clear out different obstacles,” he said. “We can go through mine fields, ditches and berms.”

Tompkins said the exercise itself is quite complicated.

“First you fire off the MCLCs,” he said. “After those explode and clear the obstruction, the follow-on forces move through the ‘lane’ created by the explosion or the plowing done by the tank or [armored breaching vehicle].”

Tompkins said the techniques practiced have been shown to be incredibly useful in combat environments.

“We’ve used these more than once in Iraq,” he said. “It’s been proven to be more than effective when dealing with the obstacles we use it on.”

Lt. Col. Tom Gordon, the commanding officer of 1st Tank Battalion, said the exercise is a vital part of any large scale training evolution.

“During Steel Knight, we did a lot of breaching,” he said. “It is the culmination of a large [Marine Air Ground Task Force] level exercise. We bring in everything – the infantry to the artillery, air [support] and armored vehicles.”

The Marines conducting the exercise preferred using some methods more than others, said Sgt. Kevin Booth, an assault breach vehicle operator with 3rd Combat Engineer Battalion, and a native of Tulsa, Okla.

“Setting the MCLCs off has to be the best way to do it,” Booth said. “It’s always a good day when you’re blowing something up.”

The techniques of using MCLCs and manually clearing berms with plows and tanks will continue to be practiced by 1st Tanks to keep their skills honed for future deployments.

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