Best Sappers prepare Talon robot
Capt. Joe Byrnes, 554th Engineer Battalion, prepares a Talon robot during the IED 9-Line event of the 2010 Best Sapper Competition, April 19, at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. Byrnes and his teammate, Capt. Jason Castro won the this year's competition.

FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. (April 27, 2010) -- A previous Best Sapper Competition winner returned to the champion's stage, April 21, at Gerlach Field.

Capt. Joe Byrnes was a winner in the 2006 Best Sapper competition. Byrnes and his teammate this year, Capt. Jason Castro, both Company C, 554th Engineer Battalion, beat out 28 teams for the title of Best Sapper 2010 after more than 50 hours of almost non-stop physical and mental exertion in dozens of Soldier and engineer-specific skills challenges.

Since 2006, the competition has only gotten tougher, Byrnes said.

"It's gotten extremely more challenging and a ton more resourced, to where every event was extremely well-executed. The amount of effort Sapper (Leader
Course) instructors put into this competition just blows me away, to be able to facilitate this competition," Byrnes said.

Like true engineers, the Best Sappers executed their plan to achieve the desired result.

"We knew going into it that we're not going to max out every event. We're going to be tired at some events and not be able to do the best at everything. So being able to communicate with each other clear and say, 'hey, we screwed that lane up, we got to suck it up and drive on to the next lane and do our best there.' I think that might have been what set us ahead of some of the groups, because this type of competition, so many different events, so many different things, you can't get down after having a bad event," Byrnes said.

Byrnes and Castro used the warrior ethos as a guiding principle.

"We treated this as a mission. We got a mission to conduct a three-day competition, give it everything we got and leave nothing on the course," Byrnes said.

The key to success was eliminating mistakes, Castro said.

"As you work together, you develop a relationship and are able to figure out what someone is good at and then we came up with a process of eliminating mistakes. I think that's what paid off in the lanes," Castro said.

Things were very close, Castro said.

"In a competition like this, where you don't find out any of the events and you don't know how you've done on any station, I think any one of those 10 teams could have won," Castro said.

Of the six phases of the competition, Byrnes and Castro won the Demolition Test and Land Navigation. For being named Best Sappers, they were awarded the Army Meritorious Service Medal and the Army Engineer Association Bronze de Fleury Medal.

The second-place team, 2nd Lts. Jonathan Kralick and Jeffrey Laughlin, 82nd Airborne Division and 20th Engineer Brigade respectively, Fort Bragg, N.C., won the Road March and Sapper Stakes phases during competition and earned the Army Commendation Medal.

Capt. James Gibbs and 2nd Lt. Jay Beeman, 11th Engineer Battalion, Fort Benning, Ga., took third place and were awarded Army Achievement Medals.

Capt. David Vasquez and 1st Lt. Brett Fuller, 54th Engineer Battalion, Bamberg, Germany, won the Non-Standard Physical Fitness Test phase. First Lts. Brandon Darroch and Stephen Kraus, 326th Engineer Battalion, Fort Campbell, Ky., won the X-Mile Run phase.

(Luke Waack serves as assistant editor of the GUIDON newspaper at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.)

Page last updated Wed April 28th, 2010 at 11:59