History Of The First Engineer Battalion
The 1st Engineer Battalion is the oldest and most decorated engineer battalion in the United States Army. The battalion’s history can be traced back to May 15, 1846, when a company of Miners, Sappers, and Pontoniers was formed at West Point, New York. Alpha Company, 1st Engineer Battalion is that company’s direct descendant. During its long history, the battalion has received 67 decorations and campaign streamers and eight foreign awards.
Alpha Company served gallantly during the Mexican-American War of 1846, participating in the Vera Cruz campaign and leading the charge up the formidable heights of Chapultepec in Mexico City. During the war, Robert E. Lee, George McClellan, and P.G.T. Beauregard served as lieutenants in Alpha Company and lead the list of distinguished Americans that have served in this battalion.
Alpha Company was expanded into the Battalion of Engineer Troops during the Civil War and was assigned to the Union Army of the Potomac. The battalion served with distinction and earned ten campaign streamers. The battalion fought at Antietam, bridged the Rappahannock River six times at Fredericksburg, breached fortifications at Petersburg, and was present at the surrender of General Lee at Appomattox. The battalion’s first Sergeant Major, Frederick W. Gerber, was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his 23 years of service to the battalion, which included the Mexican-American and Civil Wars.
During the Spanish-American War, Charlie and Echo companies of the battalion were sent to Cuba where they fought in the campaign to take the city of Santiago. The remainder of the battalion was sent to the Philippines where they provided engineer support during the battles for Manila and Cavite. Alpha Company remained in the Philippines and conducted pacification operations during the Philippine Insurrection.
With the start of World War I, the battalion was expanded to the 1st Engineer Regiment and assigned to the 1st Infantry Division. The regiment fought as part of the “Big Red One” and participated in the Lorraine and Meuse-Argonne campaigns and was awarded the French Fourragere and two awards of the Croix de Guerre for valorous service. Sergeant Wilbur E. Colyer of Alpha Company received the Congressional Medal of Honor for advancing under fire and destroying a series of enemy machine gun positions near Verdun, France in 1918.
Prior to the start of World War II, the 1st Engineer Regiment was reorganized as the 1st Engineer Combat Battalion and again assigned to fight as part of the 1st Infantry Division. In 1942, the battalion landed with the initial forces spear-heading the North Africa invasion. In 1943, the battalion cleared underwater obstacles and destroyed enemy pillboxes during the landings on Sicily. During the Normandy landings at Omaha Beach in 1944, the battalion led the assault forces, breaching gaps in the extensive enemy mine and wire obstacles and clearing the combat trails leading off the beaches. The battalion received its third Presidential Unit Citation for actions at Omaha Beach and received the Distinguished Unit Citation for combat action at Gafsa, Tunisia, and Normandy. The battalion fought as part of the 1st Infantry Division during the remainder of the war in the European Theater and after 10 years of occupation duty moved to Fort Riley, Kansas.
On May 2, 1965, the battalion deployed to the Republic of South Vietnam as part of the 1st Infantry Division. For five years the battalion cleared obstacles, built roads, airfields, base camps, and bridges in support of numerous combat operations including Junction City I and II and the TET Offensive of 1968. The battalion became famous for the Diehard Tunnel Rat section that bravely cleared the extensive Vietcong tunnel systems with little more than small arms and demolitions. The battalion received four Meritorious Unit Citations for actions during the Vietnam War.
During the next 20 years at Fort Riley, the battalion took part in numerous training exercises, NTC rotations, and REFORGER deployments.
In December of 1990, the battalion deployed to Southwest Asia in support of Operations DESERT SHIELD and DESERT STORM. The battalion breached and cleared lanes through Iraqi obstacle belts that allowed the passage of two divisions. The battalion destroyed 58 Iraqi tanks, 41 antiaircraft artillery pieces, and other large quantities of ammunition and war material. The battalion returned to Fort Riley in 1991 and received the Valorous Unit Citation for actions in Southwest Asia.
Since 1991, the battalion participated in many NTC and JRTC rotations, fought fires in the Northwestern United States, and supported anti-drug operations as part of JTF-6. In 1995, the 1st Engineer Battalion was awarded the Superior Unit Award for exceptional performance during the Engineer Restructuring Initiative on Fort Riley.
On August 30, 1999, the Battalion deployed to Bosnia-Herzegovina in support of SFOR-6. The battalion helped provide a stable and secure environment so the benefits of democracy and freedom might flourish. To this end, the battalion conducted reconnaissance of over 1,230 kilometers of routes and 298 bridges; destroyed 116,000 anti-personnel land mines; constructed 30 kilometers of roads and 5 bridges; supervised Entity Armed Forces’ clearance of more than 43,000 square miles of minefields; and distributed toys, clothing, and humanitarian aid to Bosnian children and homeless families.
In September 2003, the battalion deployed to the Ar Ramadi area of Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom II. During its time in Iraq, the battalion was active in fixed-site security, route clearance, cache searches, cordon and searches, raids, Traffic Control Points, force protection, and construction projects. The battalion’s efforts succeeded in destroying large quantities of enemy supplies and ammunition and assisted in to capture of numerous insurgents. The battalion’s hard work and perseverance served to greatly curtail the activities of insurgents in Al Anbar province, assisting in the security and well-being of the citizens of that area and enabling them to move forward on the path to a stable, democratic Iraq. The battalion returned in late 2004 and received the Valorous Unit Award for actions during OIF II.
On September 20, 2006, the battalion deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 15 months the battalion had over 1800 lED events, and over 500,000 KM of desert roads were patrolled with over 500 CLP’s conducted. The BN was diversified with 111th Sapper CO up at FOB Marez, 41 st MAC, and FSC at COB Speicher, HSC at LSAA Anaconda, 72nd MAC at FOB Warhorse. The battalion returned to Fort Riley in December of 2007 having successfully accomplished its Route Clearance mission in Iraq.
In July 2009 the 41st Clearance Company deployed to the RC-East Area of Operations in Afghanistan to provide route clearance assets for three separate brigade combat teams and the Polish Battle Group.
In November 2009 the 1st Engineer Battalion deployed in support of OIF IX-X. The 1st Engineer Battalion conducted engineer operations in United States Division – North (USD-N) in Support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The battalion conducted route clearance along assigned Division routes while concurrently partnering with the 4th and 12th Iraqi Army Field Engineer Regiments in a modified Advise and Assist role in order to help these FERs become mission capable. For actions in Iraq, the battalion was awarded its fifth Meritorious Unit Citation.
In October 2016, America’s Oldest and Most Decorated Engineer Battalion marked its first visit to the Korean Peninsula with a deployment to Camp Hovey, South Korea. The mission of the Diehard Battalion was to enable 1ABCT to deter North Korean aggression and maintain peace on the Korean Peninsula; and, if deterrence failed, enable the Devil Brigade to “Fight Tonight” in support of the US–ROK Alliance. The Diehard Battalion supported national interests in the Korean Theater of Operations by preparing for non-combatant evacuation operations (NEO), counter weapons of mass destruction (CWMD) operations, relocating elements of the battalion from Area I into Area III, and integrating enablers in support of the brigade. The battalion redeployed to Ft Riley, Kansas in June 2017.
In January 2019, the battalion deployed with the 1st Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, to Europe in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve. The deployment supported deterrence operations in US Army EUCOM, as well as facilitating multiple multinational training events, including Allied Spirit X and Combined Resolve XII at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center (JMRC). Engineers of the 1st Engineer Battalion deployed to multiple locations across the continent, including Germany, Poland, Romania, and Bulgaria. The battalion redeployed to Ft Riley, Kansas in September 2019.
The 1st Engineer Battalion continues to serve our country in the proud tradition of the many Diehards of years gone by. Our colors, heavy with battle streamers, are a proud testimony to our continued dedication to the defense of this great nation.