By Sgt. 1st Class Darrin McDuffordMay 20, 2014
FORT MCCOY, Wis. - "Training is always great. The spirit of competition with lives high in engineers and sappers, so when you raise the level of training and make it competitive it raises the landscape of training opportunities," said Brig. Gen. Anthony C. Funkhouser, commandant of the U.S. Army Engineer School.
Recently, the inaugural Sapper Stakes was held at Fort McCoy. There have been other sapper competitions from two-person teams held annually at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, until recently due to financial constraints and teams at lower unit levels in the Army Reserve component.
This competition highlights the skills of the team when conducting engineer operations that include building fighting positions, bridges, obstacles, defensive positions, detonate explosives, route clearance, demolition and more.
Command Sgt. Maj. Robert L. Stanek, command sergeant major of the 416th Theater Engineer Command, said of the competition, "It's the first in the Army Reserve at the division level. Previously units, companies and battalions have conducted Sapper Stakes but never at the brigade or higher level."
"This allows them to expand that and prepare in a normal peacetime environment. By having this competition we bring in teams of six to eight Soldiers that are basically a squad, and they practice these things in preparation for the competition," he added.
"Basically we've got the two theater engineer commands putting up about 20 teams, they're competing in this event. My vision is next year we add the National Guard. The year after that we add the active component to make an all Army competition," Stanek enthusiastically said.
Training is the keyword when talking about competitions. Winning requires a lot of experience, dedication and drive.
"This is a great learning opportunity. I've had the pleasure of talking to combat engineers and Soldiers whose skill is horizontal construction competing and they're really learning a lot. I asked one private what has he learned, and he said there's too much to remember. I hope he learned at least one or two valuable tasks as an engineer and all the valiant skills we bring to the fight," said Command Sgt. Maj. Butler J. Kendrick III, the U.S. Army Engineering School regimental command sergeant major.
"This competition needs to focus on being multi-component: Army Reserve, Army National Guard, and active Army. It should be one competition. The best squad of the components will be able to boast their reputation as the best Sapper for the year," added Kendrick.
He suggested the competition should rotate among installations and incorporate other Army components.
"We should hold of Sapper stakes competition annually and maybe rotate it. The plan now is for Fort McCoy to host it next year," he said.
Kendrick said it's important for more individuals get involved in this competition. This will focus them at the squad level, which will train more soldiers at the end of the day.
Funkhouser echoed the expansion of the competition, "Competition growth with the training opportunities expanded to the Army Reserve and Army National Guard. We'll have to look at the dynamic because it's some point to get pretty unwieldy you know with a lot of teams so how do we cull it down to integrate all three components," said Funkhouser.
"As far as bringing in all components, the Guard, Reserve and the active, it's a camaraderie environment, I think. It develops the joint operations between the three components. Not to mention, the international aspect of it. And the more we can do to become an all-Army (force) and share the skill sets and the knowledge, then I think it benefits everybody," stressed Stanek, including the idea of expansion to our allies and making this an international competition.
Funkhouser further added about the expansion of the competition, "It's about the one Army system and as the commandant of the engineer school I'm really focused on going towards one Army school system and interoperability whether the National guard or Army Reserve come to the active Army courses or the other way. After 12 years of deployments, we're trying to get all components level training."
Stanek said that right now this competition is Army Reserve centric only.
He added, "I'm in my last year or two of my career and one of the things that I've stressed on in my career, especially the past 15, 20 years is development and mentorship of junior leaders and junior Soldiers to prepare them to take over my position and other key level positions. What I've seen with this event in the short time frame we've put it together to make it happen and there are a lot of very skilled people out there who need the opportunities to excel and a lot of them are jumping at them right now."
"I could see component rivalry. You'll have the Reserve component engineers wanting to strut their stuff against National Guard engineers, who want to show that they're the best. If they were to bring in active component, of course you'd have the same thing," said Lt. Col. Kenneth J. Frey, 1st Battalion, 345th Engineer Brigade (Training Support), Camp Atterbury, Indiana, who is the commander of the unit providing the mission observers, controllers and trainers managing the events.
"If they brought in international flavor you're going to have guys that have gone through considerable expense and preparation, and they will come here and not want to embarrass themselves or their country after having gone through so much trouble. So, there will be a lot more tension in the air, a lot more competitiveness if you have multi-component and a combined effort with another country or two or three," Frey says encouraging the expansion of the Sapper Stakes.
Funkhouse culminates the idea of the future of Sapper Stakes and says, "I think we should we need to drive on. This is a great idea, and this is the Genesis of a great future event that we need to work through and see what it brings. From my perspective they got my support to get this thing going in the future.