Photo by Spc. Canaan Wright
1st Lt. Andrew Wilhelm and 1st Lt. Madison Jones, both assigned to 92nd Engineer Battalion, 3rd Division Sustainment Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, pose in front of Army Values signs, April 7 on Fort Stewart. These lieutenants are slated to compete in the Army’s Best Sapper Competition, May 1-3 on Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.
Black Diamonds ready to demolish at Best Sapper Competition
Fifty teams competing, fifty miles to cover, and fifty hours to finish, but only one team can be named Best Sapper.
Three teams from Fort Stewart are slated to compete in the 14th annual Lt. Gen. Robert B. Flowers Best Sapper Competition, May 1-3 on Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. Among them is the 92nd Engineer Battalion, 20th Engineer Brigade team consisting of 1st Lt. Madison Jones, the executive officer of the 554th Engineer Construction Company, and a Mount Pleasant S.C. native and 1st Lt. Andrew Wilhelm, a route clearance platoon leader and native of Annapolis, Md.
This is the first time competing for both Jones, a graduate of Riverside High School in Greer, S.C. and the U.S. Military Academy, West Point and Wilhelm, a graduate of Queen Anne’s County High School and St. Mary’s College of Maryland.
The Best Sapper Competition not only determines the best sapper team from across the Army but tests the physical prowess and mental fortitude of the Soldiers competing. The competition began in 2005 as a means for Sappers to test their skills. In 2018, the competition was named after Lt. Gen. Robert B. Flowers for his efforts in getting the Sapper Tab approved.
Sappers are Soldiers who perform a variety of military engineering duties, such as breaching fortifications, demolitions, bridge-building, laying or clearing minefields, preparing field defenses, and road and airfield construction and repair. Traditionally combat engineers, they also train to serve alongside infantry personnel in defensive and offensive combat operations. A Sapper’s duties are devoted to tasks involving facilitating movement, defense, and survival of allied forces, and impeding those of enemies.
“The events in the competition can be one big secret, so you have to train very broadly in order to execute,” said Jones.
Competing Soldiers train months in advance to properly prepare their minds and bodies. The competition can consist of anything that combat engineers are required to learn during Sapper Leaders Course.
Previous competition challenges consisted of ruck marches, swimming, breaching doors, low crawling through barbed wire, welding and repelling from a helicopter. The events change annually and are kept confidential to preserve rectitude.
“It’s a lot of getting used to being under the weight of the ruck,” said Wilhelm. “We’ve been doing ruck marches on the beach to simulate hills, carrying heavy oblong objects, and sharpening our engineering skills during the evenings and weekends.”
Physical fitness is key, but a large part of the competition is solving problems engineers may see on the battlefield.
“I’m very excited,” Wilhelm said. “In Sapper School, you’re just trying to get through it, but now I have an opportunity to go back and show off what I’ve learned. Madison was the first in 92nd Engineer Battalion to go to Sapper School and qualify for quite a while. She came back and not only did my train-up, but train-ups for two other lieutenants also. So, she’s the brains and the brawns and I’m here for the ride.”
With Sapper School under their belts and months of strenuous training prior to this event, the 92nd Engineer Battalion team assures that they will represent well for the 3rd Infantry Division and Fort Stewart community at the Best Sapper Competition.
“I’m confident that we will be able to compete,” said Jones, “I want to bring home the trophy.”