Building bridges with men and machines, the MEG way

Building bridges with men and machines, the MEG way

Ferrying a 24-ton truck on floats 250 metres across the city's Ulsoor lake, the agile Madras Sappers on Wednesday proved just why their watermanship skills are in ship shape.

As those floats morphed into bridges and carried men and machines with finesse, the Sappers were flexing their military muscles, a legend perfected over 237 years.

In minutes, the Sappers - Thambis of the Madras Engineer Group (MEG) – had aligned three floats, assembled an aluminium alloy platform to ferry the truck close to the Pasina Ganj island, 132 metres away.

The media watching in awe, another 10 men hopped onto a two-boat assortment that carried a Gypsy four-wheeler with ease. It was destination Buffalo island, negotiated with haste.

The dramatic demonstration of the four-week watermanship training offered media persons a glimpse of what the Sappers go through for six gruelling months.

Over the next four hours, the Thambis would display their entire skill sets, mastery of which had propelled their predecessors to famously outshine rivals in theatres of war from as far back as World War II.

Building bridges in peacetime is the Sappers' service to civilian victims of flood and devastation.

From makeshift bridges in the Northeast to helping Sabarimala pilgrims cross the Pampa, the Thambis had their mettle tested, proven and acknowledged.

But their edgy weapons training was what caught everyone's attention. As journalists walked through MEG Centre's 1,000-acre plus expanse, the Sappers soldiered on, firing in tandem at targets that loudly proclaimed in big bold letters: "Ek Goli, Ek Dushman (One Bullet, One Target)."

Behind smokescreens

The booming noise of the target practice had just dulled when thick smoke from multiple canisters engulfed the wooded area.

The shell-shocked journalists ran for cover, but only till they spotted the Sappers on rope bridges, negotiating the assault ditch and the anti-tank ditch. To mimic the theatre of war, gunshots rang out in the wilderness.

Smoke from each canister would envelop the entire area, confuse the enemy and give the Sappers ample time to move their machines.

"At least 20 to 30 metres can be covered in that one minute of chaos," an officer explained.

Crawling under fences and barrels, the Thambis showed how they would move. Quickly, and putting all their endurance skills to test.

The PT Nursery was proof why they could move so swiftly. Clearing 18 obstacles repeatedly in seven 45-minute sessions, they had strengthened their muscles, prepared themselves for the merciless battlefield scenarios.

Lined up for everyone's view were the trainees on the flat foot walk, climbing along a 2.5-metre vertical rope going up to 7 metres as the Sappers graduate, many  on monkey ropes, inclined systems and wall bar exercises.

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