Fifth of six part series: Sappers find exhaustion, little sleep in final week Print E-mail
Thursday, 27 June 2013
Spc. Gregory Hurliman and 1st Lt. Jeris Durene, Sapper Leader Course students, fabricate a lasso to capture mines placed in their path.

Story and photo by Melissa Buckley
GUIDON staff
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Lack of food and sleep was the theme for students in week four of the Sapper Leader Course — making the final week the toughest so far.

The students started the pinnacle week with a series of Field Training Exercises.

 “Sappers are mentally and physically broken down by week four. They are tired, hungry, wet and sometimes hot or cold. They are starting to sense the end of Sapper school is near. Complacency is kicking in and at the worst time. Their graded leadership position while conducting a patrol can make them or break them,” said Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Zwolinski, Sapper Leader Course subject matter expert. “Of course not every mission goes as planned, but being able to adapt in stressful situations with minimal assets and still accomplish the mission is what being a Sapper is all about.”

First Lt. Dale Braxton, Company A, 2nd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, said he feels like he has been tested in the last four weeks more than ever before.

“Mentally, I’m exhausted. It’s a lot of information to try to retain over the course of four weeks. I’m ready for a break.     Physically, I’m also very exhausted. It’s very demanding. I definitely have aches and pains in places I wouldn’t expect. My whole body hurts,” Braxton said. “Trying to stay awake is hard. Not falling asleep is a big challenge this week.”

On top of the back-to-back Field Training Exercises, he said carrying is rucksack everywhere compounds the difficulty.

“It’s different walking around with nothing on your back, then you come here and everywhere you move you have 60 or 70 extra pounds. Just walking up and down these big hills wears and tears on your body,” Braxton said.  

At this stage of the course, each day the students are eating two Meals Ready to Eat and getting one to four hours of sleep.

“It’s a well known fact that falling asleep while pulling security in a patrol base or while sitting in an Objective Rally Point is common. Heads also tend to nod frequently during Operation Orders and through the planning process. If they haven’t found their breaking point by now, it usually becomes fatigue and lack of rest that will get them. I remember falling asleep while walking during the infamous long walk on the last day of patrols,” Zwolinski said.

Cadet Sarah Melville, U.S. Military Academy, West Point said the hardest thing for her at this point is retaining information while being exhausted.

“All of this information is new to me. There are very few things I even had a grasp of before coming here.  For sure I’ve never done any demolitions before and I didn’t even know how to tie a square knot before this training. All of the ‘West Pointers’ came straight out of grad week, so we just had our final exams. Maybe that helped me because I’m use to cramming lately,” Melville said. “This course has taken a toll on my body. I’ve learned I’m capable of a lot more than I thought. My biggest challenge is pushing myself. These are long days. The missions are usually really cool, but getting there and afterwards are the hardest parts. Doing the same long days, with very little sleep, while trying to keep up the momentum is hard.”  

According to Zwolinski, teamwork is a must during the Patrolling phase because experience, knowledge and motivation levels are diverse with every Sapper.

“All the missions that they execute are equally as important. However, not all go as well as they expect. How the students identify strengths and weaknesses among each other and use them to their benefit or find ways combat them is key. They are expected to take charge; think on their feet and adapt, and overcome routinely during this week. They started team building events early in week one of General Subjects. They have been learning, growing, teaching, coaching and mentoring each other since the beginning of the course. It is left up to them to set the tone for training and rise to the occasion,” Zwolinksi said.

Braxton agreed. One of his biggest strains in week four was working as a team.

“We are trying to push through the mental and physical barriers that we are experiencing while trying to help our fellow Sapper out, so they can get the best patrol possible to meet their goal. In Patrolling it is impossible to get a ‘go’ in some of the lanes without help from the guy and girl standing next to you,” Braxton said.

Melville said the teamwork aspect of the Sapper Leader Course has become very clear to her in the final week.

“I don’t want to screw somebody over because I got tired. It’s not a good excuse,” Melville said. “When I was the squad leader I could just ask my team leaders and they would get it done. To be able to do that means you can do so much more.”

Today, the students will be given an opportunity to retest eligible failed events before Friday’s graduation.

“One will retest the demo exam, one will retest the 12-mile road march and 10 will retest Land navigation- all pending they are still eligible and receive a 50 percent ‘go’ rate in patrolling,” Zwolinksi said. “They found out Wednesday after they came out of the field when they were separated into formations; graduates, non-graduates and re-testers if they still have a chance. We also take the time to explain why they fell short in certain areas.”

At this point Braxton is counting down the minutes until graduation day.      

“I am looking forward to seeing my children and then shortly after that some food. I want to be able to eat whenever I want to. Showering every day will be nice too. But mostly, I miss my kids. I have 4-month-old twin boys and I miss them,” Braxton said.

He offered some advice for future Sapper Leader Course students.

“I think just being in the best shape possible coming through has helped me out. If you are questioning your physical abilities you definitely won’t make it through week four. It’s probably one of the most challenging physical events I have every experienced. It’s non-stop physical challenges the entire week with no breaks,” Braxton said.

Melville’s advice for future students was simple — don’t be selfish.

“If you come here for yourself you might as well just leave. This leader course is about developing yourself for other people’s benefit. You can’t just look out for yourself here,” Melville said.

Friday, Class 006-13 will officially graduate. In next week’s GUIDON find out how many Sapper candidates from this class received the coveted Sapper tab.

(Staff Sgt. Timothy Jacobs, Sapper Leader Course, senior training management non-commissioned officer, contributed to this story.)

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 10 July 2013 )