Engineers face demanding course to earn Sapper tab Print E-mail
Thursday, 30 May 2013
By Melissa Buckley
GUIDON staff
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It’s considered one of the most brutal courses the U.S. Army Engineer Regiment has to offer — yet hundreds come to Fort Leonard Wood every year for their chance to earn the coveted Sapper tab.

“The Sapper Leader Course prepares true professionals, subject matter experts, that can execute any mission in any conditions, with minimal equipment,” said Capt. Matvey Vikhrov, Sapper Leader Course chief of training. “It is the premier leadership course for the Engineer Regiment. The 28-day course is extremely fast-paced and challenging. In order for students to succeed, they need to arrive in great shape and be ready to learn fast.”

According to Vikhrov, about 400 Sapper candidates go through the course yearly, with only 52 percent of them graduating, earning the right to wear the tab.

“Engineer and infantry units select the best-qualified Soldiers to attend the Sapper Leader Course. Those Soldiers that earn the Sapper tab will return to their unit and train other Soldiers on Sapper techniques,” Vikhrov said.

Units submit names of the most qualified Soldiers to attend the course through the Army Training Requirements and Resource System. There are up to 38 students in every class.

A new class starts Friday. One of those students will be 1st Lt. Jeris Durene, 1st Platoon, Company A, 2nd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 82nd Airborne Division, Sapper Platoon leader. He had been waiting since August 2012 to find out if he would be accepted into the course.

“I was selected to attend based on my past performances in my unit. There was also a lot of consideration taken as to who the unit could send,” Durene said.

The Sapper Leader Course is open to males and females, active-duty or Reserve component Soldiers. Officers must be in the rank of captain or below and enlisted Soldiers can be promotable specialists to the rank of sergeant first class. Priority for the course is for those Soldiers in the Career Management Field 12 (combat engineers) with an additional priority to Soldiers with an Additional Skill Identifier of S4 (Sapper leader). Others eligible for attendance include select personnel from the Marine Corps, along with infantrymen and special forces.

Falling under the 169th Engineer Battalion, 1st Engineer Brigade, the 28-day course is broken up into two phases: General Subjects and Patrolling.

The first phase, General Subjects, lasts 14-days and covers all technical aspects of the course. The second phase, Patrolling, covers basic patrolling techniques and battle drills that emphasize leadership.

“In the Patrolling phase, Sapper students conduct recon, raid and ambush missions with concentration of engineer tasks required for successful accomplishment of these missions. Culminating in a 7-day Field Training Exercise,” said Master Sgt. Kevin Wiseman, Sapper Leader Course chief instructor. “Sapper school prepares expert Sappers and small unit leaders by requiring combat engineers to lead and execute combat engineer tasks and missions in a physically demanding, stressful and austere contemporary operating environment. We produce subject matter experts on all aspects of mobility, coutermobility and survivability that commanders can rely on,” Wiseman said.

    All of the instructors are Sapper qualified. According to Vikhrov, the instructors are required to hold the Additional Skill Identifier that the School produces. Additionally, all Patrolling phase instructors are both Ranger and Sapper qualified.

Durene said he is eager to learn from the experienced instructors.

“I don’t think I could call myself an engineer leader in good conscience without attending the Sapper Leader Course and earning the Sapper tab. It is important to me to stay proficient in the various tasks taught at the course as well as gaining a better understanding of the expanse and limitations of a Sapper on the battlefield,” Durene said.

Taking the course has been an aspiration of Durene’s since he started basic training in 2006.

“I have worked with several leaders, peers and Soldiers throughout the years who have attended the course and every one of them has told me that they learned a great deal at the course,” Durene said.

This will be the first time Durene has attended the course.  

To graduate he will have to maintain 700 out of 1,000 possible points and receive a “go” —  in other words a passing grade — on all required events including land navigation, the 12-mile foot march, the patrolling written exam, the advanced medical techniques written exam, the demolitions written exam, and the Support Coordinations test. All of which have one re-test authorized.

To earn the tab, all students will also have to receive a “go” on at least one leadership position during the FTX.

“Those who earn enough points, but do not pass the Patrolling portion of the course are eligible to recycle patrolling with the next class. Those who fail on points are released at the end of the course but may attend the course again at the later date as a new student,” Vikhrov said.

    Durene said he expects the course to be very fast-paced and demanding, and that’s why he tried to prepare himself before his arrival.

“I know there is a ton of information taught at the course and it’s not easy to cover everything an engineer needs to know in 28-days. I also expect it to be physically and mentally challenging. We have a lot of ground to cover and adding in the stresses of little sleep and working with new people for the first time will not make things easy,” Durene said. “I’ve done my best to prepare physically and to study knots. It can be tough to find time after work, but I had some help from the Sappers in my unit that are veterans of the course.”

    Durene is hoping to specifically refine his skills in patrolling and mountaineering. But what he is looking forward to most happens on water operations day.

“I have always wanted to helocast. I think that will be one of the most exciting portions of the course,” Durene said.

The part of the class he is looking forward to the least — running.

“It may sound funny coming from a guy from the 82nd, but I’ve never been fond of running, and it’s defiantly not my strong suite. From what I hear, the instructors are pretty fast,” Durene said.

    Durene will get the chance to find out just how fast the Sapper Leader Course instructors are in just a few hours. He said he is ready.  

“I’m very excited to get this opportunity, but I also know that I have to be at the top of my game. The course is known to be very rigorous and leaving without a tab is not an option for me,” Durene said.

    (Editor’s note: This is the first story in a six-part series that will take readers through the Sapper Leader Course from now to the day they graduate the course.)
Last Updated ( Wednesday, 12 June 2013 )