By Capt. Cortland Henderson
Special to GUIDON
The Lt. Gen. Robert Flowers Best Sapper Competition is set to kick off March 30, and it has a strong 14-year history behind it.
The competition’s first year, 2005, marked a significant moment in engineer history. At the time, the Sapper tab had just been authorized for wear thanks to the efforts of Flowers, who served as the 50th Chief of Engineers. Leadership from within the Engineer Regiment wished to showcase the skills of a Sapper and help bring awareness of the vital role of the combat engineer within the Army. But very few Soldiers were aware of what Sappers actually did.
While the competition initially began as a means of bringing attention to the Sapper Leader Course, it now identifies the best leaders in the Engineer Regiment by testing their knowledge and intestinal fortitude.
SLC 1st Sgt. John Adkerson issued a challenge to all Sappers that sums up the BSC’s current role, “You might be the best in your unit, but are you the best in the Army?”
A Sapper leader is one who can adapt to any situation and embody the engineer motto, “essayons,” which, translated from French, means “let us try.” So, to ensure BSC winners are truly the best from the regiment, instructors from the SLC have gone to great lengths to keep the course evolving. Every year, cadre develop a different set of events, although some may remain the same. Not every event within the competition is one that is taught at SLC. For example, in one competition, contestants built an 11-row concertina-wire obstacle. In a different year, Sappers used exothermic torches to cut through steel.
Despite its annual changes, one aspect remains untouched: it is a team competition. Unlike civilian endurance competitions, and marathons, Best Sapper competitors work together in pairs.
“If you think about it, we are never by ourselves. The best statement of leadership is not driving yourself, but by driving someone else,” said Sgt. 1st Class Timothy Jacobs, SLC chief of operations. “Having that teammate makes them push twice as hard.”
Relying on the Soldier next to you reinforces the idea of the Army as a “team of teams” and highlights one of the fundamental tenets of SLC — this is a competition of leaders.
You do not earn your own tab, you earn your buddies’ tabs — I’ve heard those words many times in Sapper circles. In other words, it’s impossible to accomplish your mission without the help of your team.
“Going through the breach, you are never going in alone,” said Capt. Tyler Sykes, 169th Engineer Battalion BSC lead planner. “There will always be someone to your left and right.”
(Editor’s note: Henderson is with the 554th Engineer Battalion. He graduated from SLC in 2015.)