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Full stretch

Around half of 22 Regiment is in Bosnia, with the rest back at home in Perham Down, Wiltshire. The regiment arrived in March after its 26 week tour was brought forward by six months. Just five months ago the regiment was in Northern Ireland. The army's target interval between tours is 24 months, but recent events in the Balkans look likely to stretch the system further.

The regiment is way down on the number it should have in Bosnia, both because of the lack of overall troop numbers in the Army and because of the number of commitments it already has around the world.

Under the command of Colonel Colin Boag, 22 Regiment in Bosnia comprises 384 sappers split between the Regiment Headquarters, 5 Field Squadron, 6 Headquarters Squadron and REME, the vehicle recovery and repair division. There are also the specialist Explosive Ordnance Division and the STRE specialist structural design team. Also under the control of 22 Regiment are around 310 engineers from Canada, the Netherlands, Belgium and the Czech and Slovak Republics.

Whether it is combat engineering or construction, the regimental HQ co-ordinates the work, 5 Field Squadron

carries it out on the ground and 6 HQ Squadron supplies the materials and plant. The other units support all activities with their specialist skills.

Royal Engineers are primarily trained for their combat role, which is to help their troops by breaching obstacles while creating obstacles to hinder enemy movement. For this role an array of huge pieces of 'green metal' for bridging or filling ditches, and minefield laying and crossing are at their disposal.

But each engineer also has a specialist civilian trade - carpenter, electrician, concreter or bricklayer - with which to carry out construction tasks. The combination of skills gives REs the belief that, given enough time and man-power, anything is possible.

This keeps the Royal Engineers constantly in demand. Whether the Army is patrolling Northern Ireland, Cyprus or the Falkland Islands, keeping the peace in Bosnia or carrying out humanitarian relief in Kosovo, the Engineers are needed from day one. The result is that the man-power and time available on each tour is continually squeezed and the number of tours for each Engineer Regiment increased.

Already in Bosnia, construction tasks have to be halted regularly while combat priorities are attended to. So-called 'hearts and minds' tasks to ease the plight of the local communities - the work which sappers truly enjoy doing the most - now have to slip down the priority list. As the UK increases its commitment to policing the world, it is likely that these tasks will become even lower priority.

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