Bullville Army Reserve engineers win Sapper competition
January 15, 2014
JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. (Jan. 15, 2014) -- "Battalion! Attention! Winning Sapper team, post!" bellowed Lt. Col. Stephen Dale, commander of Army Reserve's 854th Engineer Battalion out of Saugerties, N.Y., 411th Engineer Brigade, 412th Theater Engineer Command.
Companies of the 854th participated in a Sapper Stakes competition during a three-day battle assembly here recently.
Along with individual and crew-served weapons qualification, Sapper Stakes tested Soldiers on combat engineer tasks and skills, such as, bridge classification, simulated demolitions, and emplacing concertina wire.
The competition was important, but the months of training leading up to the event was a major focal point.
"The intent is to use Sapper Stakes as a way for first line leaders to focus on individual training events and training tasks that are tied to their engineer mission, and become proficient at those tasks," Dale said.
"We build on that training and create a competition where we have 10-man teams selected from platoons in the companies that compete against each other on a list of tasks," Dale said.
Because of the team effort, Sapper Stakes also "builds a lot of esprit de corps," Dale said.
Sgt. 1st Class Jaime Solano with the 328th Engineer Support Company, out of Northfield, N.J., thought Sapper Stakes itself as a way to get more training for his Soldiers and not just a testing event.
"To my thinking, this is more than just a competition. There is a big training element to it also," Solano said.
"The competition and scoring is fun, but if the Soldiers walk away not having learned anything, then it is a wasted opportunity," he said.
At the simulated demolitions event, Solano and his team members had to set up two charges. One was to be placed lower down on the trunk of a tree. One of the real-world uses of this external ring charge would be to clear a helicopter landing field.
The second task was to rig an offset charge on a steel beam. This simulated an i-beam on a bridge marked for destruction.
"This is my first time competing," Solano said. "I think it is a lot of fun."
"After day one, you are kind of feeling the team out," he said. "At the end of day two, you have been working through the events together, and the camaraderie develops very quickly. Anytime you have an external stressor on a team, it has the tendency to tear them apart or build it up. We have been getting along pretty good and having a great time together."
Staff Sgt. Edward Scott, with the 668th Engineer Company, out of Orangeburg, N.Y., was an evaluator at the bridge classification scenario.
"If you were, say, on a route recon and you came upon a bridge and it does not have a sign or is unmarked, you would get the military load classification off it," he said, explaining what bridge classification is. "You would then notify higher headquarters up the chain of command, so that they would know for future reference what vehicles could cross it and what weight."
"It is easy to mess up, the calculation tables are difficult and all you have to do is be off a little bit and it can have catastrophic results" in the real world," he said.
After receiving instruction from Scott regarding the event, 2nd Lt. Joshua Lehman led his Sapper Stakes team over to the heavy timber bridge and began taking measurements to create load classification sheet to classify the bridge in the proper way.
Measuring the stringers, the longitudinal supports under the bridge, seemed difficult with all the number crunching.
There are a "whole lot of formulas, a lot of numbers," Lehman said.
"It was a good task, teaches a lot to the troops and was a big learning curve for us," Lehman said. "As a maintenance platoon, we like to get into these other things to learn about them and expand our knowledge."
One evaluator of the concertina wire event was Sgt. Leonard Magi, with the 417th Engineer Company, out of Bullville, N.Y. For this test, Soldiers had to construct a "triple-strength concertina wire obstacle," Magi said.
This obstacle is a barrier of the sort that would protect an outpost in Afghanistan, Magi said. The contestants had 30 minutes to complete the 50-meter obstacle.
"I have all this equipment out here," Magi said. "They don't have to use it all. I try to make this as realistic as possible, [and] better training for the Soldiers. It is all about teamwork and the strategy of how you plan it all out. That's really the key thing is teamwork."
Second Lt. Gregory Hotaling, assistant operations officer for the Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 854th Engineer Battalion, was at the concertina wire event working with the team.
They seemed to be doing well in the competition.
Reflecting on the fact that he is in a headquarters unit and does not always get a chance to do engineer activities, Hotaling said, "It's good to actually get out and do some engineering."
The next day Hotaling said, "Our team is very confident how we did this weekend, and we are very hopeful to see how the events played out. We did well on many different stations."
Later the same day at the 854th Engineer Battalion formation, Hotaling and the HHC team learned they had placed third.
The Forward Support Company placed second. The team from the 417th Engineer Company won.
"Winning Sapper team, post!" bellowed Dale.
"The scoring was real close between the FSC and the 417th," Dale said in front of the formation. "FSC, you guys represented well. Congratulations. Everybody else, you did great too."
Col. John Constable, commander of the 411th Engineer Brigade, presented the trophy to the winning team.
"This is the best part about being a commander is coming down here, spending time with Soldiers and leaders," he said.
He handed the trophy to 2nd Lt. Mark Oakley and said, "You giving away that trophy next year?"
"No way, sir," said Oakley.
"Good enough," responded Constable.
After the formation, Oakley spoke with his team.
"Teamwork, keep that up, every time we do this. Everything we do, every mission, this teamwork is what will carry us. Period. You exemplify what the 417th stands for. Thank you."
"I am incredibly proud of my company, not just the participants, but all the support that everyone in the company has given the team," said Capt. Brian Maurelli, commander of the 417th. "They really came together and were able to execute and build camaraderie, and that is what Sapper Stakes is all about."
Maurelli, a gracious victor, heaped praise on the other contestants.
"The other participants did a great job too," he said, all the other companies, FSC and HHC, particularly. We were neck and neck the whole time. They gave a real, great run for our money, and we appreciate the competition from everybody. Great to see the whole battalion out here."
"I concur with the commander," said First Sgt. David Sanchez. "The pride that I have from this is overwhelming. The Soldiers did above and beyond. Hard hours, hard work, and it paid off. I am proud of the whole company. We're going take it next year, too."