By Sgt. 1st. Class Katrina CraigApril 12, 2019
FORT LEONARD, Mo. -- Two Soldiers assigned to Fort Campbell, Kentucky won the 13th annual Lt. Gen. Robert B. Flowers Best Sapper Competition, April 10. Capt. John Baer and 1st Lt. Terence Hughes, both of 39th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), competed against 47 two-man teams from across the Army.
After 50 hours of strenuous physical and mental testing across a 50-mile course filled with 35 "mystery" tests, Baer and Hughes ultimately prevailed as the winners, taking home the title "Best Sappers" of the 2019 Army-wide competition.
"This is the second consecutive year a 'Screaming Eagle' team won the Best Sapper Competition, I am very proud of our competitors," said Maj. Gen. Brian Winski, 101st Abn. Div. commanding general. "This is a grueling competition, and those who win are the best of the best. Congratulations to [Baer and Hughes], who are not only bringing home the trophy, but also are becoming more prepared for combat."
For Baer and Hughes, the competition was not only about winning, but also working as a team and reaching personal goals.
"The sum of our capabilities individually is not as great as both of us working together towards something," said Baer.
The officers described some of the obstacles and events they faced during the competition, in which organizers keep many specifics secret to test the training and resiliency of the teams. They had to conduct a physical fitness test and obstacle course; a 600-meter swim wearing combat equipment; a land navigation course; runs and heavy-equipment road marches -- all of which they did not know the lengths or distances prior to competing. Also, the competition included a wide range of combat engineering skills such as using robots to disable explosives and placing demolition charges.
Baer said the unknown distance phases challenged the mind and body. He and Hughes learned from competing in 2018 that their feet were not ready for the distance. To prepare, they trained carrying heavy loads without shoes over a two-week period to build up calloused feet.
The team participated in the competition last year and knew they would improve this year. They understood they were at Fort Leonard Wood to represent the historic legacy of the 101st Abn. Div.
"You show up with a Screaming Eagle [patch] on your arm, everyone knows you are not going to quit," said Hughes. "Everyone knows you came to represent the 101st."
Fort Campbell sent five teams to compete, and all finished. In addition, four of the five teams finished in the top ten out of 48 teams from Army installations and units around the world. Almost half of the competing teams did not finish the rigorous course.
Sappers are combat engineers who support the front-line infantry and have fought in every war in American history. The name sapper is derived from "sappe," a French word meaning "spadework," or "trench," and became connected with military engineering during the 17th century when attackers dug covered trenches to approach the walls of a besieged fort. Today, they use explosives and other special tools to emplace obstacles or breach structures on battlefields.