The Hole Thing…

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.

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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).

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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

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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//

14 thoughts on “The Hole Thing…”

  1. Once upon a time, while stationed at 29 Palms with Romeo Battery 5/11, I was ordered to dig a fighting position. After about 2 feet I hit rock. I don’t mean rocks, I mean a giant boulder. The Battery Gunny came by and had me move about 6 feet away to try again. Same thing happened after about two feet. He told my section chief to have me knock it off. It wasn’t worth it. Later, out of boredom, I dug a path between the two holes and discovered they were on the same gigantic boulder.
    One of the 8″ howitzers even had to shift about 20 feet to get the spade off a BFB (big freaking boulder) that it had run into while digging the spade in.
    I guess the battery had set up on a large boulder field that had been covered over with sand and dirt sometime in the distant past. Great times. Hated it then. Sometimes miss it now.

  2. I was always the tank platoon cross-attached to the infantry company. During one exercise, the platoon leader for the infantry platoon they sent to my tank company had, if i recall correctly, on the order of two hours of blade time with a SEE to dig in his dismounts, but instead let the SEE sit there unused, and he went on to: 1) get all of his dismounts “killed” in the subsequent training mission; 2) get himself a letter of reprimand; and, 3) solidfy a well-founded reputation as a retard. (As the IN CO CDR refused to send him to the tank company again, I later found him hanging out on my tank platoon sergeant’s tank one day, when I showed up to conduct an inspection of it, whining about how he hated the army, and I had a one-way conversation with him about never coming around my platoon again.)

    1. Trevor below is correct. Usually it is said in jest.

      Usually.

      In fact, while the Bradley crews usually referred to the dismount elements as “dismounts” there may have been a time or two when they called them crunchies.

      There was often some small amount of rivalry in mech infantry companies between the Bradley crews and the dismount squads.

  3. I will never forget my first FTX in Basic where I got to be on the OPFOR. We only had to dig hasty fighting positions (much nicer) and we got to assault the company’s positions. The Drill Sgt in charge of us managed to catch the camouflage on top of one foxhole on fire with a smoke grenade. Dry pine straw will catch on any damn heat source, it seems.

  4. 1. It was strange being in Germany in the early 1980s….we could use bulldozers to dig AT ditches at Hohenfels but we couldn’t dig fighting positions. That definitely adopted a mindset of setting up in buildings and using a LOT of sandbags….Thank God we never found out if it was a good idea! VERY restricted on digging in Germany

    2. At FT Stewart I loved digging in my company! My dismounts used to say every time we hit a stop sign they would have to dismount their Bradleys and dig a hole! Did a cool battalion exercise there where we dug in our entire battalion and used nothing larger than M151 for the entire week…did I mention we were a mech battalion? It made it a real challenge as S4.

    3. All the digging in paid dividends when we were at live fire at NTC…and we had a couple of 155mm short rounds hit in the battalion area duing the live fire defense.

  5. Oh, and it originally called the Dupuy Fighting Position after GEN William Depuy who used his WW 2 experience to use this position type when he commanded the 1st Division in Viet Nam. He later went on to command TRADOC and mandate this as the standard fight position.

    1. DuPuy was TRADOC when I was in flight school. His is the only name I can remember from all the ossifers whose names and faces I was required to remember and be able to recite on demand. For some reason I couldn’t remember him back then.

      Why now? 🙂

  6. Bill Dupuy and Donn Starry have more to do with the success fo the post-Viet Nam Army than all others put together.

    Giants, indeed.

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