Every grunt knows how to dig what used to be called a foxhole, but is now known as a fighting position. Sure, it’s a hole in the ground, but it’s not just a hole in the ground. The Army actually has a very specific set of standards for digging one.
Given time, your basic two-man fighting position should also be provided with overhead cover, the better to protect you from artillery fragments (and coincidentally, make it a lot tougher to toss a grenade in).
Really, the only problem is, there’s a LOT of digging involved. It’s a backbreaking job under the best of circumstances, and it takes a LOT of time. There’s a surprising amount of work to be done when preparing for the defense, and time spent digging is time that can’t be used for other purposes, such as rehearsals, stocking up reserves of ammunition, digging secondary positions, laying in wire or other obstacles, or fighting the counter-reconnaissance fight.
Accordingly, since so much of the Army is mechanized or motorized, they came to the decision to buy some machines to do the heavy digging. The answer they came up with is one of the ugliest vehicles currently in the fleet, the Small Emplacement Excavator, or SEE
Based on the Mercedes Benz Unimog truck chassis, the SEE is simply the implements of a backhoe mounted on a 4 wheel drive truck chassis.
There are only half a dozen or so SEE’s per engineer battalion, so like every other engineer asset, there’s never enough to go around. Supported units have to prioritize the work to be done. If a company commander only has one SEE supporting him, and battalion says he can only have it for 3 hours, he’s going to use that “blade time” to dig in his crew served weapons such as his machine guns and his Javelin anti-tank teams. Once all his crew served weapons are in, any time left over will be devoted to digging in the platoon designated as the main effort. More than once, I found myself swinging my puny entrenching tool into rocky soil while the guy next to me had a SEE digging his hole in no time flat. Grrr…
Back in mid-February of 1991, my platoon was attached to a tank company, and was up on the northern border of Saudi Arabia awaiting the order to move to the west and then invade Iraq. The threat of a spoiling attack by the Iraqi’s was real, so while bulldozers dug in the tanks and Bradleys of the company, we poor little dismounts grabbed shovels and entrenching tools and started to chip away at our positions. The sand was about 4 inches deep, and then a hard rock like layer lay beneath it. We probably could have spent a couple days chipping out our positions.
About that time, the engineer company supporting our battalion sent a SEE to our company area. The problem was, the operator had orders to dig a latrine pit for us, and move on immediately to the next company.
Now, tankers aren’t famous for their love of infantrymen. And I’d been attached to some tank companies that didn’t treat us crunchies all that well. But the First Sergeant of THIS company was a much finer man than that. He grabbed the SEE operator and told him to dig out our positions. The operator refused, citing his instructions from his own headquarter.
The First Sergeant was pretty adamant that any crunchies attached to him were going to be well treated. I do believe his exact words were “If you try to drive off without digging the holes I tell you to dig, fourteen tanks are gonna open fire on you!”
I’ve had a hard time being mean to tankers ever since.
//bends corner of grunt-card//