We go to work every day worrying about the weather or wondering if our crews and supplies will show up on time so we can stay on schedule with our progress and our profits. We love to brag about how hard we work and complain about the tough conditions we face on our job sites – and then brag again about overcoming them. But today, for the time it takes to read this page, I'd like to focus on the men and women who go to work every day in Iraq and Afghanistan, often with the same skills, tools, and equipment we use, but under very different conditions.

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Rick Schwolsky

Throughout our history, combat engineers in every branch of the military have fought their way into position – whether by clearing the beaches of Normandy, carving perimeters and fire bases out of the jungles of Vietnam, rebuilding landing strips and roads in Iraq, or creating patrol bases and checkpoints in Afghanistan – then set up their tools and equipment and gone to work. From WWII to Korea, Vietnam to Desert Storm, and today in Iraq and Afghanistan, Seabees, sappers, and combat engineers have served – and often died – in every theater of military operations for generations.

Outside of their storied war-zone deployments, combat engineers are often the first units sent to disaster-stricken countries – most recently Haiti – to help clear the way for relief and supply operations, rebuild roads and runways, and repair medical clinics. They bring with them the military skills, resources, and training that can often forge a turning point in relief efforts, opening the way for a country to move forward toward recovery.

But there are no tougher conditions than those they face in combat and under constant threat – building bridges or clearing obstructions, mines, and IEDs to restore mobility for troops and equipment; building bunkers and fighting positions that increase the safety of our frontline fighters; and creating the infrastructure needed in order for fuel, ammunition, and supplies to flow to forward units from resupply air bases and ports.

As you can see on our cover, as well as in this issue's ToolHounds article, a combat engineer's MOS (military occupational specialty) encompasses a wide range of work and skills. Carpenters and electricians, plumbers and riggers, bulldozer operators and bridge builders, demolition and explosive experts – all are integral to the success of every military operation at every stage. These specialists have witnessed some of the most gruesome events in history, including the horrors of Nazi concentration camps immediately after liberation, when they had to deal with the unthinkable aftermath.

They roll in with the infantry, land on hostile beaches, and jump out of perfectly good airplanes with their Airborne brothers. And for their continued service, and the work they do with the tools and equipment we know so well, we honor combat engineers past, present, and future. We will think of them every day on our own job sites.

Rick Schwolsky, editor in chief rschwolsky@hanleywood.com