A rite of passage for Arctic Sappers
August 30, 2011
JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska, Aug. 30, 2011 -- More than 50 senior leaders from the 6th Engineer Battalion (Combat) (Airborne) battled Alaska's elements and terrain and some tough scenarios to earn their places in the Order of the Arctic Sapper here Aug. 17.
The daylong training event tested 52 Soldiers from the 6th Engineer Battalion (Combat) (Airborne) -- mostly in the ranks of sergeant first class and higher -- in a series of team-based challenges.
"The Order of the Arctic Sapper was designed to achieve multiple individual and collective training objectives, while building cohesion among our senior leaders through friendly team-based competition," said Lt. Col. Marc Hoffmeister, commander of the 6th Engineer Battalion (Combat) (Airborne).
Six teams of about 10 Soldiers each were presented with a series of objectives that presented challenges unique to the Alaska environment. The events included mountain climbing, rappelling, and river crossing before reaching the final event in which each team conducted a live fire and battalion knowledge board.
Secrecy and surprise was a key element of the event. Aside from a handful of planners, the details of the event were not disclosed to participants until the day prior to execution, which further challenged everyone's ability to think on their feet and deal with uncertainty.
The event began as helicopters transported the teams into the Alaska wilderness to climb to the summit of Temptation Peak. Teams were not given a designated route, which tested their land navigation skills.
"The climb to Temptation Peak was definitely a challenge," said Capt. Tyler Van Zandt of the 84th Engineer Support Company. "Not only did the terrain itself make the event challenging, but the addition of hail, rain, and wind at higher elevations further increased the level of difficulty."
Each team then made its way to Ship Creek to rappel down a 150-foot tower. Upon ascending back to the top of the rappel site, each team moved further up the river and conducted a crossing with a rope bridge. Connected to a single rope using nothing but a carabiner, team members pulled themselves through the water on their backs, hand over hand, until they reached the other side.
The competition ended with a live fire range a knowledge board testing each team's knowledge of the battalion's history. The board aimed to teach the leaders about their unit's history and instill a pride in the 6th Engineer Battalion. By day's end, each team had endured about 18 hours of challenging training.
"The Order of the Arctic Sapper definitely pushed everyone to their mental and physical limits, but we all pulled through and accomplished our tasks together as a team," said Capt. Andrew Scott, battalion plans officer. "It was a true confidence-building measure from an individual and team perspective."
Each team was evaluated based upon previously established criteria, to include performance on the live fire range and the time it took to complete the course. The team representing the 23rd Engineer Company (Sapper) (Airborne) was declared the overall victors for this inaugural event.
All participants were officially inducted into the Order of the Arctic Sapper and presented "Arctic Sapper" tabs to certify their completion of the event.
Although this event was unique in several respects, the concept of team building through friendly competition was not new to the Arctic Sappers. In March the battalion conducted the Arctic Sapper Winter Olympic Games involving a broad range of team-based competitive events designed to reinforce arctic warfighter skills.
"We hope to continue our tradition of building tactically competent Soldiers through both traditional training events and competition-based training," Hoffmeister said. "Our next competitive training event will take place in the winter with the continuation of the Arctic Sapper Winter Olympics, which will go a long way in building a full-spectrum, all-weather force that is capable of mastering the physical terrain of their surrounding environment."