Known for their specialized training, different grooming standards (they are allowed to wear well-groomed beards), and their axes, Assault Pioneers are a mix of an infantryman and a combat engineer. Aside from the normal infantry tasks, they are trained in explosive breaching and other combat engineer skill sets.
Lieutenant General Paul Wynnyk, a former commander of the Canadian Army, said, “The new version of the Assault Pioneers will assist in maintaining mobility in complex terrain. So that means in mountains and, particularly now, in urban environments where skills like breaching come into play. Right now, that task is solely held by the engineers. They have to do things like fortify buildings, clear roadways, move obstructions, and all sorts of other stuff. They don’t have the personnel to augment the infantry.”
The reintroduction of the Assault Pioneers will make infantry units less reliant on outside support and consequently more effective and lethal on the battlefield. Urban warfare has been and will continue to be one of the most demanding warfare scenarios. Having the ability to maneuver in, between, and around buildings is essential in city-based fighting.
“Engineers have a huge envelope of things that they’re responsible for,” said Captain Colton Morris, an instructor at the Canadian Army’s Infantry School in Oromocto, New Brunswick, in a press release. “And without the Assault Pioneers, they’ve been saying, ‘We have many tasks and in order for us to maintain all those skills, we’re running ourselves ragged.’ Engineers and Assault Pioneers complement each other.”
Captain Morris has been instrumental in designing the new Assault Pioneer Course, which is open to both active duty and reserve soldiers. But there is hope that the reactivation will increase retention among the Canadian forces.
“The intention is to increase retention,” added Captain Morris. “By bringing the Assault Pioneers back, we open up other options for privates, corporals, junior leaders—and even officers—to expand their breadth of experience. Being part of this is exciting. In six or seven years, as I’ve moved along my career, I’ll be able to say, ‘We have Assault Pioneers again and I was part of that.’”
The Assault Pioneer occupational speciality had been deactivated following the end of the Cold War. The leadership of the Canadian Army believed that their capabilities could be fulfilled by combat engineer units and that it was financially inefficient to duplicate the skillset.
Assault Pioneers are common in the Commonwealth countries.