VFW Magazine March 2011 : Page 22

have adapted, modifying the awards sys-tem to accommodate the circumstances. Recognizing “the evolution of warfare and the realities of the modern battle-field”where troops are engaged in a “tac-tical conflict,”the Marine Corps changed its rules for awarding the Combat Action Ribbon. Beginning in May 2005, the Army also acknowledged the facts of ter-rorist warfare by including direct expo-sure to suicide bomber and IED attacks as qualifiers for its then-newly created Combat Action Badge (CAB). Perhaps the new regulations regarding the Purple Heart are most reflective of this trend. Traumatic brain injury (TBI) caused by an IED concussion qualifies for the award. The Army’s list of wounds that “clearly justify” the Purple Heart includes “concussion injuries caused as a result of enemy-generated explosions.” The Marine Corps requires that a Marine be knocked unconscious to receive the Purple Heart for mild TBI. New Army rules also limit soldiers to a maximum of five concussions to prevent long-term mild TBI. The 203rd’s casualties in Afghanistan are a good example of why these changes were made. Of 72 Purple Hearts awarded for wounds, virtually all were due to IEDS, and most were for concussions. Unique Battleground Combat engineers fight two enemies: the Taliban and terrain. Some 77% of Afghanistan’s roads are unpaved. Reg-ional Command East, where the 203rd operated, includes 14 provinces encir-cling Kabul, the capital. An area the size of Pennsylvania, it is home to 400 tribes living near the Hindu Kush, a 500-mile mountain range har-boring 15,000-foot peaks with treacher-ous passes like the world-famous Khyber Pass. The northeast provinces border Pakistan and its notorious tribal regions. The 203rd’s area of responsibility roughly equaled the land mass of West Virginia. Its stomping grounds included four provinces. Units were based out of Engineers Out Front in Every War “Combat engineers go unrecognized for what they do in combat zones,” said Vietnam vet Thomas Clark. “They have gone to war and risked their lives every day since World War II.” Here is a brief overview of that service in six wars. WWII to the Persian Gulf During WWII, combat engineers—sometimes serving as infantrymen—paid their dues in blood. Some 7,158 Army engineers were killed in action: 5,508 (77%) in the European Theater and 1,612 (23%) in the Pacific Theater. The remainder died in transit. “Engineers were committed as infantry during the tactical emergencies everywhere in Europe and North Africa,” accord-ing to The Corps of Engineers: The War Against Germany (1985). Engineers earned their combat accolades, too. For example, at St. Vith amidst the Battle of the Bulge, the 81st Engineer Combat Battalion (ECB) garnered the prestigious Presidential Unit Citation (PUC)—equivalent to the Distinguished Service Cross— for its role in defeating the Germans. On the other side of the world in Burma, the 209th and 236th Engineer Combat battalions participated in a grueling 22 • VFW • March 2011 Members of the 70th Combat Engineer Battalion work on a road culvert in 1965. The unit earned a Presidential Unit Citation. two-month campaign in 1944, sustaining 127 KIA and 291 WIA after being pressed into service as infantry. They, too, received the PUC. On Okinawa, the 302nd ECB suffered 20% casualties in one three-week period. Korea once again saw engineers fighting as infantrymen. The 2nd, 3rd, 13th and 14th Engineers all played pivotal roles in key battles at places like Yongsan, the Naktong River, the Yalu River and Pork Chop Hill. Among Army battle deaths, engineers counted 862. Another 1,844 were wounded in action. Eight ECBs fought in the war as part of a division, 21 separately and three as independent companies. In Vietnam, engineers constituted 10% of Army troops Forward Operating Bases (FOB) Sha-rana, Ghazni and Salerno, for instance. Operations often cleared the way to remote combat outposts (COPs). Treacherous terrain and proximity to the Pakistan border plays right into the hands of the Taliban and assorted ene-mies. Here, Arab and other foreign recruits linked to al Qaeda easily infil-trate across the porous Pakistan border. Perhaps one in three of those crossing the border is an Arab. Today’s “Talibs” (Taliban) are fanati-cally committed to the cause of driving the Americans out and restoring their tyrannical rule. They are much more radical than their elders who fought the Soviets two decades ago. Some 80% are in their teens or early 20s; half the field commanders are under 30. The Missouri and other Guardsmen would get a firsthand taste of this fanati-cism before the 203rd’s tour was up.IED attacks, indirect fire and small-arms ambushes became a not uncommon part of the regular routine. HTTP://A70THVETS.COM

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