The 12th annual Best Sapper Competition returns to Fort Leonard Wood Monday through Wednesday, with the next Best Sapper Team being named at 7:30 a.m. April 19 on Gammon Field.
As a signature event to Engineer Regimental Week, the competition is designed to take “50 teams, 50 miles, in 50 hours,” giving Sapper-qualified engineers the opportunity to showcase their skills in specialized engineer and infantry techniques.
Sapper Training Company instructors prepare the competition in between teaching the Sapper Leader Course throughout the year.
Organizers said the main goal is to create an event that is realistic, challenging and fair.
“We try to put as much, if not more effort, into preparing for the competition than competitors who are getting ready to come here,” said Sgt. 1st Class Paul Morris, SLC Patrolling instructor. “It takes a lot of time and resources to make sure all of the coordination is on point. We have a lot of meetings and rehearsals to make the best atmosphere for these competitors.”
Instructors validate the course during a walk-through, validation and a rehearsal. “A lot of the instructors validate the Best Sapper Competition course three to four times prior to competitors going through,” Morris added. “We do this so everything is validated and to work out any kinks or possible scenarios that could give someone an advantage or disadvantage. We want to make sure it’s an equal playing field for all competitors.”
Like the Sapper Leader Course, there are two committees leading the competition: General Subjects and Patrolling.
“When we get to Best Sapper, the segregation of duties goes away, and we come together as a company,” said Sgt. 1st Class Jayden Sekscinski, Patrolling instructor. “Our concerns are our individual lanes. Timing is a huge piece. We have to synchronize everything so teams aren’t waiting or falling short.”
“Everything is generated from the ground up by the instructors,” the Springfield, Missouri, native said. “We plan everything from general idea to concept of operation and brief the resources that we need.”
As they gear up for the competition, SLC instructors have to stay on top of the classes they teach.
“If you take into consideration all the classes that are being conducted simultaneously with Best Sapper Competition planning, it is pretty impressive,” Sekscinski said.
Competition planners wear the Sapper Tab and have the knowledge and skill to plan events, he said.
“Each instructor plans one lane,” said Sgt. 1st Class Saywakram Brijnath, General Subjects instructor. “Instructors must read up. We go through the books and make sure all the lanes are conducted by doctrine.”
Brijnath said doctrine is important to ensure lanes make sense to competitors and to maintain credibility.
Last year, roughly 30 percent of the teams were cut the first night.
“We want to tailor the competition so that we have more teams finish at the end,” Brijnath added. “This year, the competition is still going to be tough, but we’re hoping most of the competitors will make it all the way to the castle. That is our goal.”
Although the events of the competition are not released, instructors do offer consistent advice to competitors.
“We’re not throwing something together that’s impossible,” said Staff Sgt. Louie Smith, SLC instructor. “We’re planning a reasonable competition. We’re not trying to injure competitors, just test them. This is something that can be done by the Sapper leader.”
“Physical fitness is key,” Smith added. “Competitors are going to have to hit up the Sapper handbook, and Technical Manual 3-34.82, and know all the material that’s in there to successfully master this competition.”
Part of the competition is to solve problems engineers may see on the battlefield.
“It’s definitely a gut check,” said Sgt. 1st Class Robert Moore, an SLC instructor who competed in the Best Sapper Competition in 2015. “It was tough. The Soldiers who make it through definitely don’t have any quit in them whatsoever.”
“For the two or three days you’re moving, you’re definitely going to find a point where you are going to question if you really want to keep doing this,” Moore added. “You have to be able to think, too. There are a lot of technical events. You don’t really sleep. You move roughly around 50 miles in those two or three days. Your ruck sack is heavy. It’s definitely demanding.”
The Sapper Training Company encourages spectators along the way.
“In some lanes we’ll have spectators,” Brijnath said. “In some lanes we can’t have spectators just because of the locations.”
“Coaches can’t say anything to their team,” Brijnath added. “A big part of the competition is integrity. If coaches interfere, there might be some repercussions.”
That said, having spectators “gives competitors a boost to have people from their unit cheer them on,” and provides “extra drive, motivation, support,” he said.
Completing the competition brings pride to the units that dedicate anywhere from three to six months of training to make sure their competitors are ready, Brijnath said.
“Finishing the Best Sapper Competition is prestigious because it represents their unit, the train up and the other engineers in the regiment,” Moore said. “It shows they have the knowledge, skills and experience to make it through such a grueling competition that tests every facet of what being an engineer is in such a short amount of time. You must be a well-rounded individual to accomplish those tasks.”
To instructors, hearing the competitors say thanks for putting together a challenging course makes it worth it.
“There are a lot of bragging rights to bring the trophy home to the unit,” Brijnath said. “It’s a big accomplishment for them. For us, actually being a part of this competition and putting it together is rewarding, especially when you look back on it and can say, ‘Yeah, that went pretty good.’”