• Combat engineers at the Sapper Leader Course at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., execute door breaching exercises during a field training session.

    Sapper Door Breaching

    Combat engineers at the Sapper Leader Course at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., execute door breaching exercises during a field training session.

  • Sapper Leader Course instructors debrief combat engineers on their performance following a field training exercise at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.

    Sapper Leaders

    Sapper Leader Course instructors debrief combat engineers on their performance following a field training exercise at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.

  • Students at the Sapper Leader Course at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., practice building clearance, which is a skill they may use in the field to search buildings safely and effectively.

    Sapper building search

    Students at the Sapper Leader Course at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., practice building clearance, which is a skill they may use in the field to search buildings safely and effectively.

  • A combat engineer at Sapper Leader Course at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., participates in a field training exercise through challenging terrain.

    Sapper field training

    A combat engineer at Sapper Leader Course at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., participates in a field training exercise through challenging terrain.

FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. (Jan. 27, 2014) -- Twenty-five-year-old 1st Lt. Katherine Baumann loves to be challenged and decided there would be no limits to what she could learn and experience with a career in the U.S. Army.

Baumann attended Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conn. She studied chemical engineering while also participating in the U.S. Army Reserve Officers' Training Corps. Once she received her degree, she decided to join the Army for the adventure and unmatched opportunities it would provide.

"I wanted to have a purpose in life and basically do the unexpected, and I wanted to lead Soldiers," Baumann said.

Prior to setting her sights on the renowned Sapper Leader Course, Baumann gained engineering experience in the Army working in both horizontal and vertical construction platoons. She was later deployed to Afghanistan for route clearance operations.

"I came to Sapper Leader Course specifically to become a better leader," Baumann said. "All the people in my unit who have Sapper tabs are exceptional leaders, and I want to be more like them."

The Sapper Leader Course is an engineer-specific, 28-day course designed to turn Soldiers into Sapper leaders. During the challenging course, Soldiers are transformed into elite combat engineers by becoming experts in specific engineer tasks, infantry skills, mountaineering, airborne and air assault operations.

"Sapper Leader Course is a school based on combat engineering fundamentals and it teaches leadership abilities, as well as expedient techniques for handling combat engineer operations," said Sgt. 1st Class Andrew Messick, Sapper Leader Course instructor. "At Sapper Leader Course, you'll learn to work under tight deadlines. You'll learn to work as a team, and you must be able to make decisions under extremely stressful situations."

The course is divided into two phases, with the first 14 days consisting of learning general subjects such as medical, navigation, demolitions, air and water operations, and mountaineering. The second phase covers basic patrolling techniques and battle drills to help emphasize and teach leadership. Subjects include urban operations, breaching, patrol organization and movement, reconnaissance, and raid and ambush tactics.

During each training event, Soldiers are graded and scored. In order to become a Sapper and wear the coveted Sapper tab, Soldiers must earn 700 out of 1,000 points.

"The unique skills that I'm going to get here that I wouldn't get anywhere else is definitely the mountaineering and the strong emphasis on not being constrained by your terrain," Baumann said.

Besides physical obstacles, Soldiers in the Sapper Course are also exposed to the challenges of Missouri's unpredictable weather. Average winter low temperatures are in the 20 degree range, while summer high averages are in the 90 degree range. Tornado warnings are also very common.

"Here they teach you personnel management under high stress in extreme environments," Baumann said. "How are you going to take that platoon, while it's raining, while it's 10 degrees? How are you going to take them down that cliff with a casualty, under fire? The Sapper Leader Course brings it all."

For Baumann, the opportunities she receives in the Army are unparalleled to the civilian world.

"An employer would know that your leadership and your management skills are top-notch," said Messick. "You've been tested and the United States Army has had the ability to trust you with human lives and millions of dollars worth of equipment."

Aiming high and serving her country are Baumann's main motivators for becoming an Army officer, and more specifically a combat engineer.

"I love defending my country, and I love knowing that my family and friends are really proud of me," Baumann said. "I'm at the Sapper Leader Course because I wanted to come to one of the schools that's considered the best in the U.S. Army."

Page last updated Mon January 27th, 2014 at 00:00