Final installment of six part series : Engineers graduate newly tabbed Sappers Print E-mail
Wednesday, 03 July 2013
Story and photos by Melissa Buckley
GUIDON staff
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Forty-one hopeful service members started the Sapper Leader Course May 31. Today, there are 25 brand new Sappers in the world because they received their tab during graduation Friday.  

Cadet Max Gordon, U.S. Military Academy, West Point, was the class’ honor graduate.
Students from the Sapper Leader Course conduct a graduation exercise Friday. The four-week course brought 25 new Sapper tab holders into the engineer ranks.

Gordon said he had been training to enter the Sapper Leader Course for two years and he’s thankful he finally got the chance to take the course.

“I haven’t had a lot of leadership experience. Working with individuals who are currently serving has really allowed me to grow and experience what it really means to be a leader,” Gordon said. “I am the ‘go to’ man now. A Sapper is a jack-of-all-trades. If you need something done, you go to a Sapper. Given any mission or task, I can find a way to accomplish it.”

The class wasn’t exactly what he expected. He said he was ready to learn about demolitions, weapons and mountaineering, but surprised about the bigger lesson he took from the course.  

“In Sapper Leader Course — leader — is the key word. That is something I had to wrap my head around. What I really did out here in Fort Leonard Wood is become a leader. We take our ranks off. We aren’t leading by rank here; we learn to lead by who we are,” Gordon said.

The toughest events were also some of the best memories Gordon has from the course — except for preparing for the demolitions exam.  

“The hard times are when we actually had the most fun because we were sucking together. Once the event was all done, we would sit down, gather our thoughts and discuss it for a few minutes. That’s when the jokes start coming out and the real bonding occurs,” Gordon said. “The lowest point for me, apart from running through the woods with someone on my back, was the night before the demo test. I was up at three o’clock in the morning trying to make a demo card with a headlamp that was burning out on me.”

Another graduate, 1st Lt. Jeris Durene, 1st Platoon, Company A, 2nd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 82nd Airborne Division, Sapper Platoon leader, said one of the first Field Training Exercises was the lowest point for him.

“We were getting ‘artied’ (receiving indirect fire) over and over, and I was carrying two rucksacks up a hill. We had only gotten a total of an hour and 15 minutes of sleep in 36 hours. A bunch of people got faked killed by indirect fire, so we had to carry them and their rucksacks. It was really hot, too. Physically, that was the worst day for me,” Durene said.

Despite the physical wear and tear the course took on his body, Durene said he had a good time.

“The jump was really fun here. We got to jump out of a Chinook. I really liked that. Pathfinder day, when we threw the parachutes out, was good experience. And the Aussie rappel was really fun. I would have done it 10 times if they would have let me,” Durene said.

    Now that Durene has a Sapper tab he said he believes he is finally qualified to lead engineers — a job he doesn’t take lightly.

“I felt like if I am going to lead engineers, I need to have a Sapper tab. I feel like I have finally met the requirements of my job,” Durene said. “When you get a tab it comes with an expectation. You have to be squared away. This is one of those gut check schools where I learned a ton, but I was reminded that I have to live up to a higher standard. I feel like I am bearing a larger responsibility.”  

Cpl. Christa Hepler, 11th Engineer Battalion, Fort Benning, Ga., injured her shoulder in week two of the course. She fought threw the pain, refusing a medical profile, and was able to finish with her class.

She was at graduation only to support her classmates, as she didn’t receive enough points to claim a tab for herself.

Even though she didn’t graduate, she was grateful for the confidence she gained from attending the Sapper Leader Course.

“I came in real shy and timid. I felt like outcast. The others didn’t make me feel that way — I did. Within two days, I felt like everybody had my back. We ended up talking to each other like we are Family or best friends,” Hepler said.

She hopes to have the opportunity to take the course again. She said her goal is to become the first enlisted female to graduate from the Sapper Leader Course.

She also wants to share her newfound knowledge with her fellow Soldiers in Fort Benning, Ga., and encourage them to take the course.

“I can definitely take what I have learned back to my unit and pass it on to other Soldiers. It’s amazing what they can teach you in 28 days. It is phenomenal training,” Hepler said. “Learning to work as a group, while developing your leadership skills is an experience that nobody should pass up.”

Durene also plans to encourage others to attend the Sapper Leader Course.   

“More people need to come through here. The instructors here have a huge knowledge base,” Durene said. “This class multiplies the skill set of an engineer. Engineers are so specific, but have so many jobs. This course brings it all together.”
Last Updated ( Wednesday, 17 July 2013 )