FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. -- Being named one of the best will bring special meaning to a Soldier from the 31st Engineer Battalion here.

1st Lt. Christine E. Murray, a competitor in this year's fifth annual "Best Sapper" competition, is the first female to ever compete in this challenging event.

Besides being the first ever, she is also the only female in this year's competition.

"I heard several people talking about the event and I though it would be good training. So when my battalion executive officer asked if I would be interested, I said yes," said Murray. "When I signed up, I didn't know that there had never been a female competitor, and that I would be the only female competing this year."

The Best Sapper Competition is the Engineer equivalent of the Best Ranger Competition, showcasing the Army's elite Soldiers in combat engineering military occupation specialties.

The competition is open to any Soldier, Sailor, Airman, or Marine who has earned the Sapper tab by successfully completing the 28-day Sapper Leader Course, where fewer than 50 percent of the students graduate. Engineers in the 21 career series, who don't have Sapper tabs, are also allowed to compete.

A total of 34 teams representing 12 different posts, from as far away as Germany and Hawaii, will compete this week in a variety of demanding and exhausting events. They include land navigation, mountaineering, helocasting, road marches, weapon assembly and disassembly, knots and rope systems, and what engineers like to do best, blow things up.

Phase I of the competition begins at 4 a.m., with a physical fitness test which will include doing as many pushups and sit-ups as possible in five minutes, as many pull-ups as possible in three minutes, and run three miles as fast as they can, wearing Interceptor Body Armor plates.

Murray, her drill sergeant partner, and the other two-man teams, will face a grueling 52 hours of physical and mental challenges to determine who will be named "Best Sapper."

"To prepare for the six-phase competition, I focused on upper body lifting to increase strength, ran, conducted ruck marches, practiced day and night land navigation, and worked on some of the other technical events like poncho raft, skedco rappel, and demolition.

Sappers have fought in every war in American history. Designation as Sapper is earned as an additional proficiency.

"To be named the 'Best Sapper,' the best of the best, is quite an accomplishment. It is an extremely prestigious award. To earn the Sapper tab itself is very difficult, so to be named the best in the entire engineer regiment, would be quite an honor" Murray said.

The 2009 winners will be announced at the end of competition on April 22.