Air Force 1st Lt. Jessica Franz graduated from the Sapper Leader Course Friday after spending six weeks learning combat engineer skills here.
Franz, a Tactical Air Control Party Airman from the 5th Air Support Operations Squadron stationed with the Army at Fort Lewis, Washington, felt the knowledge gained in the course will ultimately help save lives.
“As a TACP, you’re controlling aircraft and calling in close-air support, but downrange our air assets are always limited,” she said. “Combat engineering has been an underutilized asset in the Army because they don’t always have representation with the commander making decisions. If a combat engineer could take out an obstacle, then you could utilize air assets more efficiently and save a lot of lives, and ultimately provide more support for all of the elements.”
As one of only a few Airmen to have even attempted the course, Franz had little information to help her prepare. However, she said her unit at Fort Lewis was very supportive of her decision.
“As more Airmen come through the course, then hopefully there will be people coming back to help spin up the others,” she said. “(The Sappers) have a very good website that showed a bunch of knots and other things to study, so I just studied off the website. Other than that, I kind of came in blind and just went for it.”
She said she found the course very difficult but also fun.
“We helocasted out of CH-47s,” she said. “Jumping in the Ozarks was hands down the most fun part.”
“The most useful piece was the patrolling aspect, seeing how the Army breaks out its Sapper platoons into which squads, how they maneuver with their own forces and when and how they prep their demolitions for different missions,” she added.
Capt. Jason Richmond, Sapper Training Company commander, looks forward to more joint students going through the course.
“We love to get the support of the other services,” he said. “To train our skills to individuals outside our organization is essential to the growth of this course. We’re more than happy to train them.”
Franz said she also hopes to see more joint-service training in the future.
“I think that it is really important for the Air Force TACPs especially to fully understand the combat engineer asset that is Sapper and what they actually can do,” she said. “If the two end up working together, it will be a life-and-death difference for a lot of people downrange who otherwise might not have gotten much support.”
As for being the first female Airman to graduate the course, Franz said she doesn’t feel unique because of her gender.
“I don’t think I’m special for being a girl,” she said. “I just wanted to come here and help create a bond between the engineers and the TACPs.”