Capt. John Baer and 1st Lt. Terence Hughes, 39th Brigade Engineer Battalion, Fort Campbell, Kentucky, defeated 47 other contending teams to take home 1st place in the 2019 Best Sapper Competition at Fort Leonard Wood.
“We fight where we’re told, and we win where we fight, and this week it was Fort Leonard Wood,” Hughes said of the competition. “Mission accomplished.”
This mission’s completion was a long time coming for his teammate.
“It’s the end of a journey of trying to get the trophy,” Baer said.
For five years, he made the journey to Fort Leonard Wood in search of victory.
“This was (Baer’s) fifth time competing and he finally won,” said retired Lt. Gen. Robert Flowers, after whom the competition is named. “Now there’s somebody who never gave up.”
The commissioned officer duo placed first in two of the event’s phases, the Non-standard Physical Fitness Test and X-mile Run, where competitors are not told the distance they must march while strapped with hefty baggage.
“The most difficult part was the X-mile (Run), not knowing how far we have to go,” Hughes said. He added that humor kept him on his feet.
According to Baer, the march was exhausting mentally and physically, but it represented the culmination of the blood, sweat and tears the two shed in preparation.
“What kept me going was there is so much that we invested together in this,” he said. “We’ve dedicated three months of our lives to preparing just for this event. We’re not going to sit down and rest because we risk losing the opportunity to get this trophy that we’ve worked so hard for.”
Flowers agreed the long march is one of the most grueling tasks teams must complete.
“The amount of movement you have to make on foot carrying a very heavy rucksack — it really takes a toll on you,” he said. “It’s a test of your mettle, tactical knowledge and your physical fitness.”
Capt. Rudy Chelednik and Sgt. 1st Class Robert Clark, the defending champions, finished in second place behind Baer and Hughes.
“They had been at a 30-day training event up to about a week and a half before this competition started, so they had very little preparation time at all for this competition” Baer said. “What they did in even showing up here and placing among the top 10 is pretty admirable. It was humbling to compete with them.”
Baer indicated he does not plan to compete for the title of Best Sapper next year.