FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. – Forty-eight (two-man) teams of the Army’s toughest engineers competed in the 2017 Best Sapper Competition at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, April 25 to 27.
Army engineers from Alaska to Italy showed up ready to compete in the 11th annual competition and claim the trophy from the dominating 82nd Airborne Division, winners of the BSC since 2014.
The competition began dark and early on the morning of April 25. Sappers were given a life jacket and told to carry their partner into the rolling curves and trails of Fort Leonard Wood; there was only one response — screams of motivation and anguish ready to persevere and win the title of the Army’s Best Sapper.
Ninety-six engineers began a three-day journey and faced a 50-hour agenda, with a distance covering over 50-miles using their skills, body and heart.
The events tested the Sapper’s occupational knowledge, tactical agility and challenged their physical fortitude.
Engineers moved all over the soaked and rainy Fort Leonard Wood area on foot while participating in a helocast water insertion, sling-loading equipment, obstacle demolition, a rappel tower, stress shoots, urban operations, and the famous X-mile run that has been described as the Sapper Cross Fit games — a final event before finally crossing through the red Sapper castle at the finish line.
With each passing day, handfuls of teams were eliminated depending on their health or performance.
In the end, 22 teams crossed the finish line. After the tears, blood and sweat dried up, an award ceremony was held to announce the first place winners and to recognize other participant’s achievements.
Winning the competition was 1st Lt. Luke Groom and Staff Sgt. Carlos Jimenez, paratroopers assigned to the 307th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Abn. Div. The All American Division placed first and again brought the trophy back to Fort Bragg.
According to personnel from the 1st Engineer Brigade, the unit supporting and evaluating the competition, the winning team took the lead from the start and never looked back, creating a huge gap of dominance.
Groom said they have been formally training since February, starting with two-a-day workouts, five days a week.
“We also mixed in a lot of occupational training to refine and hone our skills, based on what we thought was going to be in the competition. We were led by our coach Sgt. 1st Class Timothy Shay and Sgt. 1st Class Corey Wilkens,” he said.
Along with the training, the All American Sappers incorporated training events at Fort Bragg’s Pre-Ranger facilities. They trained side-by-side with candidates who competed in this year’s Best Ranger Competition.
“The train-up allowed me to become mentally fit and stable,” said Jimenez. “During the competition your worst enemy can be yourself.”
“We were able to pick each other up and drive on for the win,” said Groom. “However, it was the enormous support we received from Fort Bragg. We had four teams, so we had a lot of support from our coaches and loved-ones cheering us on.”
The division seemingly has a trending formula for success in this competition and it comes down to leaders.
Jimenez and Groom both stated that it’s been their leadership while assigned to the 307th BEB who has moved and inspired them to carry on the winning tradition and continue to compete.
“I saw my previous company commander, Capt. Jason Bahmer, compete and win it,” said Groom. “That’s what made me want it.”
The 307th BEB winners said they feel they are better engineers because of the training, the competition and the win. They feel they are setting the example, just as it was previously set for them.
“Hopefully, paratroopers or Soldiers see this and will motivate them to push themselves to be the best they can be for themselves, their unit and the Army,” said Groom.
Other teams from within the winning division and the 307th BEB, 3rd BCT, 82nd Abn. Div. are Sgt. Nathan Wooden and Capt. Matthew Olson placing fifth overall; and Sgt. 1st Class Brian Walker and Sgt. David Wilson placing 14th overall.
Spc. Anderson North and Staff Sgt. Tauveve Filoialii, assigned to 127th Airborne Engineer Battalion, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Abn. Div. competed as well.