Engineers compete for more than bragging rights
December 7, 2012
JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash.--"Hurry up. Come on, you can do it!" Those were a few of the words of encouragement coming from some of the graders and onlookers as Soldiers continued to pass the finish line, dropped their rucks and moved immediately into an obstacle course. Minutes later, all that could be heard was a loud thud as one of those Soldiers slipped from the rope and fell flat on his back losing his breath as he hit the ground.
About 200 Soldiers with the 14th Engineer Battalion participated in the "Rugged Stakes" competition on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Nov. 26-30. The weeklong event consisted of a physical fitness test; several ruck marches; both an obstacle and confidence course; skill level one task lanes; a written test; and, for those competing for the grand prize, a board in front of the battalion sergeant major and company first sergeants. The competition was designed to test Soldiers' physical and mental capabilities, stressing each to its limit, in an effort to find the best Soldier and noncommissioned officer in the unit.
By the end of day two of competition, Soldiers had already rucked about 15 miles with a 35-pound pack and completed the obstacle and confidence course.
"The confidence course is more of a mental challenge that involves a lot of heights and is mostly a fear factor," said 1st Lt. Zachary Abrams, assistant officer in charge of the event, 14th Eng. Bn.
For some of the competitors, winning Rugged Stakes wasn't the objective at all. For them it was more important to display what they can do.
"This is an honor to compete; it shows that you are part of the 14th," said Spc. Rebecca Baumgarte, horizontal construction engineer, 610th Engineer Support Company. "It's tough, but people before you have done it and lived through it. So can I. I may not be doing very good but I'll still finish."
For others, the competition was simply a chance to show their work ethic.
"I'm new to the company and I want to show everyone that I'm not here just to collect a paycheck but to do my job and do it well," said Pfc. Michael Prather, combat engineer, 570th Sapper Co. "I'm giving it my all, and hopefully I'll come out on top."
For Spc. Trevor Romero, it was all about the competition as he looked to finish what he started the year before.
"Last year, I came in at second place. This year, I will definitely finish in the top five," said Romero, combat engineer, 22nd Route Clearance Co. "I get a real motivation boost competing in this. Plus, the winner gets school of their choice."
Romero plans on going to the U.S. Army Sapper Leader Course and believes that competing in Rugged Stakes was a good way to train before attending the school.
The best Soldier and NCO in the competition will receive an Army Achievement Medal and bragging rights throughout the battalion, Abrams said.
The Soldiers participating in the event come out of it with added benefits, like camaraderie, pride in themselves and possibly some rewards.
The graders, consisting of platoon sergeants and squad leaders, take the opportunity to observe their Soldiers both new and old.
One platoon sergeant hopes the Soldiers who didn't make it through to the end of the competition at least got some training and experience out of the event.
"A bunch of this stuff from basic training they just don't get anymore; this will help reinforce the standards," said Sgt. 1st Class Keith Novembre, platoon sergeant, 570th Sapper Co. "These are the basic skill level one tasks. Most of these guys have been stuck in a truck for the last year conducting route clearance."
"For me, I'm trying to see who are going to be my next team leaders," Novembre said. "This is a good time to look at individual tasks, to see where they are at, and what they can accomplish in a stressful environment."
"The squad leaders and team leaders are assessing their Soldiers," he added. "I can tell you right now, my platoon needs to brush up on first aid training, from what I've seen so far."
After the weeklong competition it seemed everyone has came out a winner, from the participant testing his or her very limits to the leaders taking the opportunity to evaluate their Soldiers. At the end of the week, two individuals have earned the right to brag. The top Soldier in the 14th Eng. Bn. is Romero and the top noncommissioned officer is Staff Sgt. Takuto T. Kuriyama, squad leader, 22nd RCC.
It looks like Romero will get his chance to attend sapper school.