Camp Abbot was constructed to train up to 10,000 men at a time. The 17 week training cycle consisted of three phases: six weeks of general “basic training”, a specialty training period of eight weeks, and a final three weeks of living in the field under simulated battle conditions.
In the first phase the men received basic instruction in map reading, close order drill, rigging, first aid, camouflage, and military security. The program included rigorous physical training and a variety of combat drills such as hand-to-hand combat, hand and anti-tank grenades, defense against chemical, air, and mechanized attack, and rifle marksmanship.
The second phase of specialized training offered an eight week program in one of eight specialist training courses: carpentry, sawmill operation, demolition, cooking, administration, automotive maintenance, motor vehicle operation, and heavy equipment operation.
If a trainee was not selected for one of these specialties he advanced to the technical and tactical phase, also eight weeks in duration. He became part of a team that learned to build bridges under fire, engage in village combat, lay and pass through mine fields, and perform engineer reconnaissance. In essence, the combat engineer was trained to prepare the way for an attacking army.
The third phase of the ERTC program was a three week field maneuver conducted under simulated battle conditions know as a “problem”. The problem was delivered to the training battalion in the form of a sealed order, usually setting down a set of circumstances and a “mission” to repel a hypothetical enemy. The three weeks typically included a short bivouac, building a bridge, road, clearing obstacles, and preparing a defensive position with barbed wire and mine fields. After 17 consecutive days in the field, marching under full packs, eating field rations and performing the function of combat engineers, Bill and his fellow trainees would be ready for the looming invasion of Europe.