Five Soldiers from the U.S. Army 41st Engineer Battalion stand below the midday sun wearing combat helmets, productive eyewear, flack vests, and tactical gloves, waiting for the next event in Sapper Stakes - a competition that measures the skills of demolition expert.
While sweat drips down their faces, misquotes try to bite their skin, and an explosion goes off at another range, the grader gives these Combat Engineer instruction on how they will be scored at tying knots.
If you're like me, you may associate knots as something you learned in Boy Scout or made at your summer job at the harbor marina. If you're a Sapper, you associate knots with priming a block of C4 and you better know how to tie a double overhand knot.
"If it's a training environment, it's not a big deal," Sgt. 1st Class Kenneth Meyer, a grader and a U.S. Army Reserve Combat Engineer with the 479 Engineer Battalion. "If it's a real world environment, like breeching a door they're going to have a misfire. That's probably going to end your day pretty bad."
Each team member has to tie one of six knots in ten minutes to a poll or rope, but only one Soldier goes at a time. The team can verbally asset, but must be hands off. After the ten minutes is up, the Squad Leader picks somebody to choose one of four cards labeled mystery knot. That person has two minutes to correctly tie a random knot for bonus points. This mystery card reads, "figure eight with a retrace." You can Google it.
"[Sapper Stakes] really sharpens the on ever bodies end," said Sgt. Brian Yates, a grader and a U.S. Army Reserve Combat Engineer with the 680th Engineer Company. "Any team you bring out here is going to leave being a tighter group. They'll know each other better because they have shared this experience. That is the sense of community that is necessary for small units to live this life."
The score is tallied up then the team is sent to the next lane to be tested on identifying potential Improvised Explosive Devices and Land Mines.