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In war, equipment is an essential part of victory. From tents and rifles to bases and vehicles, no army can fight on manpower alone. They need technology, and people to maintain it and move it forward. The average soldier actually does not have full knowledge of how
his equipment works, let alone have the knowledge or time to maintain said equipment. Bigger and badder pieces of equipment require even more know-how and maintenance. There are also myriad obstacles and situations which a soldier will not be equipped to handle, like obstacles that impede troop movement, difficult to traverse terrain, and the elements themselves falling on their heads.
So, behind the glamorous officers and the rough-and-tumble enlisted soldiers, there's one man who will always be there to give them a technologically empowered hand: The Engineer.
The Engineer is the go-to guy for anything technological in this man's army. Just as The Medic
takes care of the soldiers' lives, the Engineer takes care of their equipment to make sure that the Medic is not needed. He's also the one that constructs shelter and support machines like turrets and gun emplacements to give the infantry cover and a little extra oomph. Perhaps most importantly, the Engineer is usually the main mechanic, handling upkeep of vehicles.
The Engineer is practically never one of the protagonists, since the more glamorous frontline soldiers are the ones that usually get the spotlight. However, if the Engineer is in a story, he will always be an essential
character, and you can expect his skills to be crucial for victory at some moment in the story. Engineer characters also usually tend to be older, more experienced soldiers who are a father figure
to younger soldiers, be they frontline soldiers or younger engineers. They can also have elements of the drill sergeant
, demanding constant effort and discipline from his crew, although this is not surprising considering the frontline soldiers depend on the equipment they service to survive. Younger engineers can have a tendency to be very passionate about their work
, and have the gift of creativity and tenacity on their side. Expect young Engineers to come up with new technologies and strategies using existing technology that will give their allies a new edge in combat. Sometimes, an Engineer will actually get the spotlight on him and remain a major character.
If an Engineer actually decides or is forced to fight, expect it to be awesome
. As it turns out, knowing how to build and fix machines and put structures together also gives you a wealth of knowledge in how to break
them. Engineers are also the guys to call when terrain needs to be modified. From building roads to blasting obstacles, Engineers will clear the way. Combat Engineers and Sappers (explosives-oriented engineers) are a thing to behold: with their capacity to utterly destroy enemy equipment and fortifications and their specialized equipment, they can cause massive panic amongst enemy forces.
Engineers can also be... a little eccentric
. Sometimes, they can show more caring for a piece of equipment than a human being.
If they're particularly skilled with explosives, they may also be a bit too quick at suggesting them
as a solution to any problem
. They can also have, in more fantastic settings, a little bit of mad scientist tendencies
, inventing and testing new technologies that may or may not make a difference
Note that this trope is about The Engineer as a particular type of character, not as a profession, so it would not actually comprise ALL that army engineers do. An engineer who deals with sanitation and construction of things like storehouses and office/administrative buildings would not be very interesting after all. This trope applies to Engineers as a palpable force in combat, be it as support or actually participating in battle.
There are various types of Engineers which feature heavily in media:
- The Combat Engineer: This is the Engineer that's right in the middle of it just like any other soldier. However, unlike his fellows who rely on more conventional weapons, the Engineer will utilize lots of specialized equipment not available to the average soldier, like demolition explosives, flamethrowers, and gun emplacements, sometimes automated. He will also assist in the maintenance of his fellow soldier's equipment(a duty that is never neglected, no matter what type of Engineer it is).
- The Support Engineer: This is the Engineer that remains on stand-by for when he is needed, working on equipment maintenance and ready at a moment's notice to jump into the field to help his fellows. Support Engineers don't see as much combat as their other brethren, but they fulfill essential duties in preparation for major offensives, like constructing shelter and destroying obstacles that impede troop movement. This is the most true to life interpretation of what an army engineer is.
- The Mechanic: DO NOT piss off The Mechanic. No other type of Engineer is as essential for the maintenance of troops' ability to attack and move, and no other type of Engineer has a shorter fuse. The Mechanic is the king of the motor pool, every vehicle is one of his babies. Bring a vehicle in a sorry state and prepare for a massive butt chewing at best and a wrench on the side of the head at worst. They have a tendency to spout Technobabble at a moment's notice.
- The Chief Engineer: The naval version. A mix of support engineer and mechanic, as he is responsible for ensuring the ship is running smoothly. Don't expect to see him above decks too often, except for staff meetings, or talk too much.
Useless trivia: Combat engineers are also called sappers
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Anime and Manga
- The faaaaaaaaaaaaaaaabulous Leeron of Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann. For the first half of the series, he practically takes care of all the Gunmen, the Gurren Lagann AND the massive Dai-Gurren all by himself! And post-timeskip, he's even MORE talented.
- The maintenance crew in Godannar. Also a major source of comedy and UST.
- Gai from Getter Robo, in all his incarnations, is the main engineer in charge of maintaining the Getter Machines. He also becomes an Ascended Fanboy when he ends up in the pilot seat of Go/Neo Getter-3 and Shin Getter-3.
- Franky from One Piece is the crews shipwright, responsible for the upkeep of the Thousand Sunny (which he designed and built, of course). He's a Combat Engineer by virtue of turning himself into a cyborg.
- Heihachi in Seven Samurai who lacks martial experience, but fights with engineering tech instead.
- Gundam series often have at least one engineer to take care of the mecha. Pilots may or may not carry out some maintenance.
- Seiya Uribatake of Martian Successor Nadesico is the person in charge of maintaining the ship's mecha and gets very angry when one of them gets banged up.
- Code Geass features Rakshata on the side of the Black Knights, and Lloyd Asplund for Suzaku.
- Q from the James Bond movies. Seriously, where would 007 be without him?
- In The Army Now focused on water-purification military engineers.
- John Wayne's 1944 film The Fighting Seabees illustrates the trope perfectly.
- The German film Stalingrad follows a platoon of combat engineers, known as Sturmpioniere, fighting in the eponymous city.
- Yori in TRON. She ran the Solar Sailer simulation, and a "blink and you miss it" Chekhov's Gun in the beginning of the movie indicates she helps control the laser.
- In the 2009 Star Trek, Montgomery Scott is looking to be as brilliant a chief engineer as in the original series. The same cannot be said for his position's predecessor.
- Averted in Battle of the Bulge when the Combat Engineers are summarily slaughtered by the SS infiltrators before they can do anything.
- There is an extended sequence in The Longest Day when the American troops are trapped on the beach by German barbed wire and concrete walls. Naturally, they bring in the engineers, who destroy the obstacles with a combination of satchel charges, Bangalore torpedoes and Heroic Sacrifice, allowing the Americans to break out of the beach into the countryside.
- An engineer also briefly appears in the Saving Private Ryan beach sequence clearing a tank obstacle.
Capt. Miller: All the amour is foundering in the Channel!
Engineer: Orders, sir! You go somewhere else! I'm clearing this one.
- The Cross Time Engineer is about how a single 20th century engineer thrown back to 13th century Poland manages to introduce heavy industry.
- The Engineer Trilogy by K.J. Parker features an engineer as the central character. Set in an alternate Middle Ages, engineering pervades the story: design, manufacture the application of machines (particularly war machines) are all tightly interwoven into the plot. Ziani Vaatzes, the titular engineer is a subtly terrifying genius who applies his deep understanding of mechanics to manipulate everything from people to empires to achieve his own ends.
- Julio Poertena from the Prince Roger series by David Weber and John Ringo maintains all of the gear used by the titular prince's bodyguard unit, from plasma cannons to Powered Armor.
- While there are no major Engineer characters in John Ringo's Legacy of the Aldenata — at least after the first significant Earth landing — the Posleen nonetheless quickly learn to fear the sigil of the US Army Corps of Engineers thanks to their other specialty, explosive devices.
- Jules Verne's books are an ode to the Engineers. Expect every major character to be one.
- Captain Hogan (later promoted) from the Sharpe novels is combat engineer and spymaster for The Duke of Wellington.
- Malakai Makaison from the Gotrek & Felix novels is a Dwarven engineer Slayer who hauls around such exotic weapons as a gatling gun, grenades, and a rocket launcher. He also built an airship that plays a major role in several novels.
- Harry Harrison's "The Ethical Engineer" - of course a double entendre regarding 1) the behavior of the protagonist, and 2) the things he was engineering.
- Leo Graf in Lois McMaster Bujold's Falling Free: At first he wonders what he can do, as just an engineer, to save the Quaddies from their plight, but then he realizes that it is an engineering problem, and that he's just the engineer to solve it.
- In Starship Troopers, Johnnie is enthusiastic upon learning he may be interacting the engineering corps on a mission. He states the unit's mottos ("Can do!" and "First we dig 'em, then we die in 'em.") to be literal truth, even calling out their bravery under fire. High praise indeed, from an MI.
- Master Klopp in Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan.
- Episodes of Band of Brothers have shown the Army Corps Of Engineers helping infantry and cavalry move. Also makes it an example of Truth in Television.
- The multitude of engineering officers in the Star Trek universe. They've proven their worth many times over.
- The first and most famous example was of course Scotty from Star Trek: The Original Series. Much like Kirk, he's become a legend even within his own universe. The character made such an impression that he's remembered through Popcultural Osmosis alongside The Big Three of TOS, and it's impossible to imagine the show without him, even though he almost wasn't a part of it at all. Gene Roddenberry didn't have any interest in having an engineer on the ship, and James Doohan (among others) had to convince him otherwise. In one interview, Doohan claims that 50% of the students attending at least one university's engineering program went into the field because of Scotty.
- Indeed, in Deep Space Nine, the engineers have attained a Worthy Adversary status amongst the Dominion Vorta officers, one of whom claims that Starfleet Engineers can turn "Rocks into Replicators".
- Other examples include B'elanna, Voyager's half-Klingon Wrench Wench, and Miles O'Brien, an everyman who uses his know-how to beat a Cardassian assassin.
- Walter in La Femme Nikita.
- In the rebooted Battlestar Galactica, Barry Garner, former chief engineer, is promoted to commander of battlestar Pegasus after the death of Commander Fisk. In a bit of a subversion, his way of running the ship is to obsessively micromanage every bit of the crew, and nearly leads to Pegasus' destruction after he blindly jumps into an ambush. He saves the ship by hitting its malfunctioning FTL drive with a wrench, dying from lack of oxygen in the engine room.
Admiral Adama: In your opinion, off the record, what was Garner's flaw?
Major Lee Adama: He was used to working with machines. Command is about people.
- Chief Galen Tyrol also exemplifies this, particularly "The Mechanic". He spends most of his appearances fixing one thing or another (usually vipers), is very possessive of the vipers, and has an entire crop of newbies to mentor. The few times he does go into combat mode, its like watching Gordon Freeman.
- Danger: UXB is a case of the engineer as protagonist. Lt Brian Ash is an engineering student who Got Volunteered into the command of a Bomb Disposal section in World War II.
- Emergency! has Charlie, a Fire Department fleet mechanic and he really gets annoyed when the firefighters try doing his job themselves.
- In Helix, the CDC's army liaison, Major Sergio Balleseros, is from USAMRIID and a member of the Army Corps of Engineers. He identifies himself as a systems engineer, who's job it is to analyze building infrastructure to discern structural methods of viral transmission, balancing out the CDC's team of biologically-oriented scientists. He explains to one of the CDC's team that his skillset means he doesn't see a lot of combat.
- Warhammer 40,000's background features the Adeptus Mechanicus, a pseudo-scientific/religious order that placates the "machine spirits" of tanks and devices with a mixture of prayer and consecrated engine oil. Representatives of the trope in general and that group in particular can be found in the army lists.
- Techmarines are Space Marines with a dual loyalty to both their chapter and the Adeptus Mechanicus, and are charged with maintaining their battle-brothers' equipment. On the tabletop they can repair damaged vehicles and bolster the defences of ruined structures, or since they're just as tough and lethal as their comrades, blast apart the foe with ancient conversion beamers or quad-barreled field artillery.
- The Salamanders, however, ascribe to the Promethean Cult and its principles of self-reliance, emulating their primarch's background as a blacksmith. Since all battle-brothers maintain their own equipment, this leaves the chapters' Techmarines free to make technological wonders for the Salamanders' armory.
- The Imperial Guard has Enginseers, Tech-Priests attached to the unit specifically to maintain their equipment. Like Techmarines they can perform battlefield repairs, though they aren't quite as effective in combat as power-armored super soldiers
- The Orks have Mekboyz, whose hard-wired mechanical knowledge allows them to construct all manner of smoke-belching vehicles or ramshackle weaponry, from Deff Dreads to Shokk Attack Gunz to Gargants. They may not be able to tell you precisely how their devices function - and indeed, some of their crazier creations may only work because the Meks think they should - but they can get a disabled Battlewagon rolling by whacking it with a hammer and screaming at it.
- Although they have little-if-any representation in-game, in the background material the Earth Caste fill this role for the Tau.
- Subverted in Paranoia: each Troubleshooter team generally has a designated Equipment Guy (among other Mandatory Bonus Duties), but it doesn't mean he's any good (especially when The Computer assigns roles based on who needs the most practice).
- In 2013 the Toy Soldiers added an Engineer regiment to the existing Soldier, Nurse and Toy Scout regiments.
- Every major character in Girl Genius. Even the mad social scientist has a built in pulse cannon, so presumably has at least some practical engineering skills since sparks tend not to be keen on allowing other sparks to operate on them.
- Sev'vil of Juathuur... but not for juathuurs, who don't use any form of technology.
- Both Kevyn Anderson and Para Ventura of Schlock Mercenary are terrifyingly competent engineers. Kevyn especially, having built, amongst other things, a distributed telescope array from stocks of torpedoes; thereafter known as the Very Dangerous Array.
- Obviously Truth in Television. No major military operation since the dawn of time has advanced without the help of engineers, even if the term didn't even exist at that time. Any operation where terrain needs to be modified, fortifications built or machines and equipment used, engineers have made their mark.
- In fact, until relatively recently, all engineers were military engineers. The term "civil engineer" was coined in the late 18th century and originally referred to any engineer who wasn't associated with the military.
- For a long time Engineers and artillery were the distinctively intellectual types of warfare. Cavalry and Infantry officers thought of themselves as warriors rather then technicians.
- As a matter of fact, the earliest heavy artillery, ie: Catapults and Trebuchets and the like, were referred to as Siege Engines. Engineers were the guys who set up and ran them. Thus, the earliest artillerymen WERE Engineers.
- To this day, the British, Canadian, and Australian engineer and artillery corps all share a common motto: Ubique.
- The earliest engineer (and architect, and physician) in recorded history was Imhotep (Yes, that Imhotep) of Ancient Egypt, who lived in the 27th century BC and is credited as designer of the very first pyramid, which still stands today, almost 5,000 years later.
- Zhuge Liang, strategist extraordinaire for the Kingdom of Shu, was also known as a gifted inventor. He is recognized as the inventor of Mantou buns, a staple of Chinese cuisine, as well as a rudimentary landmine and the Kongming lantern. Many of his inventions were used as strategic staples in many battles. Keep in mind, this was between the first and second centuries CE.
- In his Memoirs, retired Lieutenant General (and former President of the United States) Ulysses S. Grant gives the lion's share of the credit for America's victory in the Mexican War to the Combat Engineers.
- Grant himself was technically a Combat Engineer. West Point was the first Engineering School to open in the United States, and most officers retired to work as engineers for rail road companies.
- Grant was Infantry, Lee was an engineer. Only the top of the class got posted to the Corps of Engineers. But the Engineers have traditionally been the elite of the US Army: From Bull Run to the Battle of the Bulge, the last ditch has always been defended by the engineers who dug it.
- U.S. Navy Construction Battalions (Seabees) during WWII earned 33 Silver Stars and 5 Navy Crosses for heroism in the Pacific Theater, and were active throughout the globe.
- The Seabees were arguable the single most important element of the Allied "island-hopping" strategy in the Pacific Theater, as without them, the transformation of small Pacific islands into "unsinkable aircraft carriers" in record time would simply have not been possible.
- One of the things that gave Rome an edge was its war engineering. One of Caesar's less heard about claims to fame is his decision to ford the Rhine into Germania... by building a brand new bridge across it. Romans could also get a fully functioning fortification up and running by nightfall, though admittedly this is more akin to more modern "digging in" than a permanent fortification. In fact, the adage "all roads lead to Rome" was literal at one point in history: Caesar, when invading another country, would just have his engineers build roads from Rome to the invaded country and just drive his army there.
- Sorta, Roman Legions were the engineers of the empire. Their military road construction relied heavily on the fact that after six thousand (or more) men have marched, lock step with iron studded boots, along the exact same route there will be a road there, regardless of what was there before. Then after whatever battle they were marching to was won, the legionnaires would go to the local quarry, mine as much stone as they could carry (in carts and by hand) and put them along the exact path they took to get there on their way back. In modern times we use steamrollers, the Romans used fancy footwork.
- Many have commented that the Roman Legion's greatest weapon was the shovel.
- The greatest feat of engineering of the legions was during the siege of Masada. The fortress was placed on top of an isolated rock plateau and impossible to reach without using a very narrow and easily defended road, so it was considered impossible to take through military strength alone. Having to conquer it from the Sicarii to put an end to the Great Jewish Revolt and the Sicarii's raids against civilians (including Jews), the Romans built a wall around the plateau to prevent escapes and their own mountain to reach the fortress in strength and with their siege engines. Upon realizing what the Romans had just done, the Sicarii killed themselves before the Romans started breaching the wall.
- The EOD aspects of this trope are currently being automated in the form of the Pack Bot, of iRobot (creators of the Roomba) fame. The robots save so many soldiers' lives that they're treated as squadmates and have been on occasion mourned by their squad when destroyed by bombs. Apparently, there's nothing so terribly heartbreaking as seeing a hulking soldier crying over shreds of a robot, asking if it can be repaired.
- The "Trường Sơn trail", also known as the Ho Chi Minh Trail, was considered one of the deciding factors of the Vietnam War. This supply trail, largely located in Laos was maintained by a literal army of North Vietnamese combat engineers, supplying North Vietnamese forces throughout both North and South Vietnam. They kept the supply line in operation despite it being located in some of the most remote and inhospitable territory in the world and getting nearly constantly air-attacked and assaulted by U.S Special Forces. Many—including the American NSA—consider it the greatest feat of combat engineering of the 20th century.
- The most famous artists and scientists of the Italian Renaissance were almost all military enginneers including Michelangelo and Da Vinci.