Fort McCoy News July 12, 2013

863rd Engineers host Sapper Stakes Competition

STORY & PHOTOS BY SGT. 1ST CLASS MARISOL HERNANDEZ
416th Theater Engineer Command Public Affairs

FORT MCCOY, Wis. — Just as the elite infantry Soldier is a Ranger, the elite Army engineer is a Sapper.

They are combat engineers, trained to accomplish the most difficult of engineer-related tasks. During Operation Essayons, which was held at the installation in June, the 863rd Engineer Battalion, from Darien, Ill., hosted a Sapper Stakes Competition.

The Sapper Stakes is designed to test the Soldier's physical strength and technical skills while providing a team-building atmosphere.

PHOTO 1 for Sapper story
A team from the 323rd Engineer Company based out of Spartanburg, S.C.,
prepares for the start of the weapons assembly event during the Sapper Stakes
Competition held at Fort McCoy.

The competition was incorporated within Operation Essayons to assess and improve the individual Soldier skills while building esprit de corps.

Eighteen Army Reserve teams, consisting of six to eight engineers each, competed in the grueling two-day competition that included a ruck march, land navigation course, nonstandard physical fitness test, two series of engineer tasks and a written test that combined demolition safety and calculations.

Teams were from the following companies: 323rd Engineer Company (Clearance) from Spartanburg, S.C.; 364th Engineer Company (Sapper) from Dodge, Kan.; 391st Engineer Company (MAC) from Boise, Idaho; and the 806th Engineer Company (Clearance) from Conway, Ark.

"The Sapper Stakes competition is a culmination of what it is to be a combat engineer and a Sapper leader," said Sgt. Corey Chadwick of the 323rd Engineer Company and Sapper Team 5 squad leader.

"It involves engineer battle drills and combat engineer tasks all rolled into one competition. This competition was based more around the squad leaders and their ability to lead their engineer squad through all the tasks."

The motivation the teams needed to instill in each other was apparent, as they started each day before the sun rose and ended well after it set.

"It's physically demanding," said Staff Sgt. Kliber Salinas of the 364th Engineer Company and Sapper Team 9 squad leader. "It's a difficult physical and mental competition, but you have to stay motivated."

PHOTO 2 for sapper story
Pfc. Jonathan Ratzlaff, right, a combat
engineer with the 806th Engineer
Company, based out of Conway, Ark.,
ties a bowline knot during the
mountaineering knots event of the
Sapper Stakes Competition at
Fort McCoy.

The first day started with advanced land navigation leading into a 10-mile ruck march, followed by Sapper Stakes series 1 of combat engineer-related tasks. The 10-mile ruck march tested the Soldiers' physical endurance and tested their skills to work as a team.

"I just had to find it in me to keep them motivated the whole time, I kept the team together, which helped us push forward and allowed for us to keep anyone from falling out," Chadwick said.

"I had to prove to myself I could do a 10-mile ruck march, and the motivation from my team really helped," added Pvt. Jared Smith from the 364th Engineer Company and a member of Sapper Team 9.

Day two started with a nonstandard physical fitness test that included pushups, followed by sit-ups and ended with pull-ups.

Working as a team, each had to complete as many repetitions as they could in 10 minutes for each event.

The modified fitness test was followed by series 2 of combat engineer tasks, which included demolition knots, hasty road crater, hasty landing zone, in-stride breach and an improvised explosive device investigation.

The competition ended with the engineers taking a written exam.

In the end, Sapper Team 5 of the 323rd Engineer Company, led by Chadwick took first place.

"Everyone knew their place and what to do," said Chadwick. "I owe a lot to my team leaders who were under credited. I had to rely on them to step up and take control of their Soldiers."

In second place, also from the 323rd, was Sapper Team 7, and coming in third place was Sapper Team 9 of the 364th led by Salinas.

"I had five privates straight out of basic training. We were a brand new team and had never worked together before. Considering those factors, I think we performed outstandingly," said Salinas. "They motivated me as much as I motivated them."

The Sapper Stakes competition awards ceremony was attended by the 416th Theater Engineer Command (TEC) Commanding General Maj. Gen. David Conboy, 372nd Engineer Brigade Commanding General Brig. Gen. Robert Carlson, 416th TEC Command Sergeant Major Command Sgt. Maj. Robert Stanek, and 863rd Engineer Battalion Commander Lt. Col. James Kokaska.

"We just awarded the top-three teams in this great competition, but I have to tell you, all 18 teams that participated are winners, and every team that participated is far better off and far better able to accomplish their mission than they were a week ago," said Conboy.

"It's more important that we learn valuable lessons from these competitions and finish strong," said Kokaska.
Kokaska concluded the ceremony by citing the Sappers Creed.