Army News Service
FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — The 2012 Best Sapper competition, a centerpiece of the Army Engineer School’s annual regimental conference, kicked off in the dark, early morning hours of April 19, here, with 38 teams of two participating from units scattered worldwide — the largest field yet to compete.
The active and reserve component competitors moved through a course of 50-miles in 50 hours, April 19-21, with a variety of obstacles in the way, designed to exhaust them physically, mentally and creatively.
The two teams from the 84th Engineer Battalion, 130th Eng. Brigade, 8th Theater Sustainment Command, placed in the top 10 this year.
1st Lt. Andrew Cammack, construction planner, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, and 2nd Lt. Brett Carter, platoon leader, 561st Eng. Co., came in sixth place. Also, 1st Lt. John Spies, platoon leader, 561st Eng. Co., and 2nd Lt. Shane Wright, platoon leader, 523rd Eng. Co., placed ninth.
In their way of earning the title of Best Sapper stood events such as helocasting into a lake with a packed rucksack, rappelling a 40-foot tower and 92-foot cliff, day- and night-land navigation, obstacles that needed to be detonated, thermal breaching exercises and pushing through a gas-mask run.
“I learned a lot about the necessity of teamwork,” Wright said. “Neither of us alone knew everything, but together, we could effectively accomplish any task. The teams that did not work together were eliminated early in the competition, along with those teams that did not train seriously enough.”
From thermal breaching to casualty evacuation, the tasks were designed to push Sappers past their mental and physical breaking points — filtering the smartest and strongest Sappers onto the next level of competition.
Less than a third of the way into the competition, 18 of the two-Soldier teams were cut from enduring more misery and their bids for the top spot among their peers.
The two teams representing the “Never Daunted” Bn. made the cut and were left to grin at another day of pushing themselves through near-freezing temperatures, a wet forest, meals ready to eat and, in general, more austere conditions.
The teams left tackled the eight events of Sapper Stakes, which tested the competitors on their combat engineer skills with tasks like field expedient charges, in-stride breaching and mountain operations.
“Preparing and competing in the Best Sapper competition made me a more well-rounded engineer,” Carter said. “As a construction effects engineer, this competition forced me to learn the knowledge of both engineering worlds. The combat engineer world is very different, and it was very fun to cross train.”
Still, competitors who remained rappelled live “injured” personnel down a 92-foot cliff, checked to see how knots and fastenings were secured to trees, and checked how to best cross barriers, like rapidly flowing rivers, before disappearing into the darkness to navigate toward the final challenge. During the mountain operations event, competitors evacuated a “casualty” down a 92-foot cliff. This year, they weren’t using dummies.
To add realism, Command Sgt. Maj. Robert Wells, command sergeant major, Fort Leonard Wood and the Maneuver Support Center of Excellence, volunteered to be rigged in the stretcher.
“This was one of the hardest, but most satisfying things I’ve ever done,” Cammack said. “I really enjoyed the camaraderie between friends and fellow competitors from around the Army. It made me proud to be an engineer.”
The final gut check came the morning of April 21, after the X-miles run, named so because the competitors had no idea about the run’s length. It could have been four, eight, 12 miles or a distance in between.
“The Best Sapper Competition was a great event to test the competency, strength and resiliency of engineers throughout the regiment,” Spies said. “I learned a lot about resiliency and teamwork throughout the competition. We all know hard work is hard work, and it was great to represent the 84th Eng. Bn. for this event.”
(Editor’s Note: Vanessa Lynch, news editor, contributed to the content of this article.)