A person who wishes to become a combat engineer must be affiliated with the armed forces of a nation, usually a large nation. Specialized training is required to become a combat engineer in most cases, although some armies have relied on ad hoc training programs in wartime. Anyone wishing to pursue this type of career will need the discipline and physical fitness that is required for any other military career but will also need to possess solid mechanical and analytical skills and be able to apply those skills in extraordinarily stressful battlefield situations.
Combat engineers are responsible for all of the specialized construction work needed by modern armies. They have duties that range from the maintenance of roads and canals, especially during peacetime, to the use of explosives on the battlefield or in clearing mines. These engineers, sometimes known as sappers, are responsible for bridging rivers, as needed, to facilitate an army’s advance and may need to build structures such as bunkers or airfields, often while facing the threat of enemy action.
In earlier eras, armies relied heavily on fixed defenses, and combat engineers were often tasked with building or demolishing these defenses. Modern armies are less likely to use elaborate fortifications, but combat engineers do still need to build fortified positions. These structures are particularly important in areas where insurgent activity is likely.
To become a combat engineer, a man or woman must generally first pass the normal entrance requirements to join his or her nation’s armed forces. Some combat engineering work is done by contractors, but this work is typically done behind the lines and is little different from ordinary engineering and construction work. Armies differ in their selection requirements, but most demand that recruits have a criminal record clear of major offenses and be in good physical and mental health.
In most armies, combat engineer training takes place early in a recruit’s period of service. This training to become a combat engineer is typically physically rigorous but also includes instruction in the handling of explosives, in basic construction, in engineering skills, and in the operation of motor vehicles used in this sort of work. To become a combat engineer, a recruit will need to master both the physical and mental aspects of work of combat engineering. Individuals with previous experience doing construction or engineering work may find it easier to become combat engineers, as these skills translate well, and such individuals need only master the parts of combat engineering that are specifically linked to work on the battlefield or with explosives.