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14th Engineer Battalion is on ENFIRE

Shooting the Nisqually River Bridge with lasers

Spc. William Belanger uses a laser range finder to gather and record data on the Nisqually River Bridge while training with the new ENFIRE system June 5. Photo credit: Sgt. Austan R. Owen

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JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. - An engineer stands on a bridge gathering dimensions using a tape measure and lengths of cord. After a frustrating few hours he yells to the other engineer, "there has to be a better way." It appears his dreams may have been answered.

Soldiers with the 14th Engineer Battalion, 555th Eng. Brigade, conducted new equipment training on a reconnaissance and surveying equipment instrument set commonly referred to as the ENFIRE on JBLM June 3-6. Engineers fielded the ENFIRE system, tools used for road, bridge, hasty minefield and route reconnaissance, and construction management, project management, obstacle engineering and field surveying.

The new system has a myriad of modern tools packaged into a backpack including laser range finders, a GPS, a tablet computer, digital camera, printer, scanner and other items. The older reconnaissance collection kit consisted of sketchpads, pencils, erasers and tape measures.

Spc. Christopher Carr, 571st Sapper Company, said that during a deployment little might be known about routes Soldiers use. He added that tools in the ENFIRE system allow engineers to gather and disseminate information about the routes in a faster and more accurate manner.

First Sgt. Jeff Mallory with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 14th Eng. Bn, said that the new system allows the engineers to store and pass on the data digitally allowing for an easier flow of information to the command.

Toward the end of the four-day class, engineers performed a practical exercise conducting a reconnaissance mission on the Nisqually River Bridge.

Gathering information on a bridge like this allows engineers to calculate what it would take to destroy it as well as what types of vehicles the structure can support, Carr said. If heavy vehicles like a tank or Stryker cross the wrong bridge, it could collapse the structure injuring the crew and delaying the mission.

Not only does the new ENFIRE system produce accurate information, it helps the engineers gather and input the information more rapidly. Carr said even though he is just getting used to the system it took one hour to complete a reconnaissance mission that would normally take three hours.

For Mallory, who said he has completed multiple bridge reconnaissance missions in a combat zone, time is a key factor. "The less time you are on target the safer it is for the soldiers."

He added that it will be a good system as long as soldiers continue to train and learn how to use the tools properly.

Though the ENFIRE kit was intended to help soldiers gather information on bridges and other structures, who knows what all it can be used for.

"This set doesn't stop with information gathering for reconnaissance." Said Jason Redmon, ENFIRE technical training lead. "This is a tool kit, with multiple uses. If an engineer can find a use for one of these items, that's why it is here, to fill that gap."

Sgt. Austan R. Owen is a journalist with the 5th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.

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