By Marti Yoshida
Public Affairs Office
The U.S. Army Engineer School and 1st Engineer Brigade at Fort Leonard Wood honored the leader who advanced recognition for Sappers during a dedication ceremony held Monday in the Engineer Regimental Room.
The 50th Chief of Engineers, Lt. Gen. Robert Flowers, retired, was presented with an honorary Sapper award, and participated in the unveiling of the new Best Sapper Competition banner designating the competition in his name.
“During his tenure, General Flowers was incredibly proficient both technically and tactically,” said Brig. Gen. Robert Whittle Jr., U.S. Army Engineer School commandant. “He knew what being a Sapper was about better than anyone else, and he embodied that.”
“He was an incredible mentor,” Whittle added. “He was a mentor to the entire regiment, which is difficult to do as your organization becomes larger and more complex.”
Whittle described Flowers, who shaped the Sapper school, as a leader with incredible charisma that engineers need to emulate.
“Because General Flowers was Chief of Engineers and did all the things he did, he made it so cool to be an engineer,” he said. “That is the challenge we have, that the esprit de corps he set for us and that we still have today, continues.”
From idea to execution, renaming the competition took less than one year, however, the time Flowers spent championing for the Sappers took more than eight years.
Flowers explained that when he was the commanding general of Fort Leonard Wood in 1997, his then sergeant major talked about his warfighting experience as a Sapper in Vietnam. The sergeant major was serving with a fellow Sapper alongside the infantry. After successfully defending their position during an attack by the Viet Cong, the platoon leader handed the two Sappers a Combat Infantryman Badge to wear on their uniform, only to later take it back because they “were not infantry.”
Flowers made a commitment to his sergeant major, which spurred him “to drive to have the Sappers honored with a special award.”
“I started a campaign to try to get a recognition badge for the Sappers,” Flowers said. “We had initiated a school at Fort Leonard Wood, called the Sapper Leader Course, to train junior engineer officers and NCOs to lead Sappers in combat. It’s a very demanding and tough school.”
“There was absolutely no badge of recognition for completing it,” he added.
He first launched a campaign to get a Sapper Tab for the engineers by initiating a request with the then Chief of Staff of the Army, Gen. Eric Shinseki.
“We kept getting turned down,” Flowers said. “The Sergeant Major of the Army thought there were too many badges on Army uniforms. So that went on for quite a while.”
Flowers said he reinitiated the request with the Army Chief of Staff in 2003, just before he retired as Chief of Engineers. He was again told the Sergeant Major of the Army “doesn’t want to do too many badges.”
Knowing it was the right thing to do, Flowers persisted, and finally the Sapper Tab was approved for wear on the uniform in June 2004.
“When I found out that happened, I felt like I had honored my commitment to the sergeant major,” Flowers said.
The Sapper Tab is very well-deserved, he added.
The competition has been hosted each year since 2005, with the exception of 2013 and 2014, due to the sequestration of funds.
Flowers said he felt a sense of pride when he was contacted about the dedication ceremony.
“I’m very honored,” he said. “It’s nice when you’ve been retired as long as I have to be remembered and to be brought back for something like this,” he said. “It made me feel like I still belong. I’ve never felt anything different, but it’s still a nice feeling.”
“I have such a close affiliation with the Sappers and the Sapper Competition at Fort Leonard Wood,” Flowers said. “It’s a very tough competition, and those who win it are very deserving.”
He added, “it’s always when the nation needs a tough job done, they call on the Army. When the Army needs a tough job done, they call on the Sappers. They always give it their best.”
Flowers said he will attend this year’s competition.
“It gives Soldiers an opportunity to show their skills; to meet and compete with others from Sapper units around the world and to come together as a regiment for the week at Fort Leonard Wood and be recognized for the accomplishments that they’ve made.”
“It’s extremely important that we honor Soldiers that way,” he said.