FORT LEONARD, Mo. -- From April 8 -10, Capt. Erwin J. Marciniak, the logistics officer-in-charge , and 1st Lt. Jeremy Y. Matsumoto, the assistant operations officer, both of 299th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, teamed up to compete in the Best Sapper Competition at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.
The competition challenges and tests combat engineers from both the U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps on a multitude of skills required to be a combat engineer. It wasn't until June 2004, the Sapper tab was authorized for permanent wear upon completion of the Sapper Leader Course. Since the first Best Sapper Competition in 2007, the 50 Best Sapper teams from across the country and world had a chance to compete in this rigorous competition to earn the title of Best Sapper.
"When our Nation needs a tough job done they call the Army. When our Army needs a tough job done, they call on the Sappers," said Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Robert B. Flowers. Flowers, the 86th Commandant of the U.S. Army Engineer School and 50th Chief of Engineers, who played a key role in advocating for the authorized wear of the Sapper tab.
"Over the last 50 hours, Capt. Marciniak and 1st Lt. Matsumoto lived up to our motto of "Proven Pioneers," said Command Sgt. Maj. Shade S. Munday, 299th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division. "They proved that Pioneers will accept any challenge placed in front of them, leaving future Pioneers inspired."
Each team participated in a ruck march, written exam, team-building events, strength and endurance events, technical events, land navigation, and an X-mile run, which consists of running five miles while carrying water jugs and sand bags, while covering a distance of 50 miles.
"We prepared for this competition by running, rucking and we spent some time on the weekends studying our Sapper skills," Matsumoto said. "We also followed the Mountain Technical Institute 13 week best ranger train up."
Out of the 48 teams that competed, only 26 finished the arduous competition.
"To physically prepare for the competition, we followed the grueling 13-week Mountain Tactical Institute's Best Ranger Train Up Plan," said Capt. Marciniak. "And then we prepared for it technically by reviewing the published guidance and then receiving help from our battalion and the training aids."
Even with months of training and preparation, the Best Sapper Competition still presents difficult hurdles for the candidates to overcome.
"I overcame the deadlift station by seeing my strong battle buddy Chris on the sidelines, silently judging me," said Matsumoto with a smile on his face. "That gave me the boost of confidence and encouragement I needed to get through that station."
The pair quickly realized as they competed that having an encouraging teammate can mean the difference between success and failure.
"When times get hard, you can always get through by understanding the only thing that will make the pain stop is completing the tasks or event," said Marciniak. "It's amazing how by adopting this mindset allows you to break through the fatigue and keep a fast pace."
"For a Sapper to be selected to compete in this competition is an honor in itself, but to be deemed one of the top three teams out of the group of the country's best, that is a remarkable feat," said Matsumoto.
Despite being well-versed and knowledgeable Sappers, Matsumoto and Marciniak learned a lot during competition.
"The biggest thing I've taken away from the competition is the focus on the basics and just how broad that basis of knowledge is," said Marciniak. "One of the things I like about the competition is you never know what is going to be tested each year and there are always a few events you didn't prepare for. It's humbling but at the same time extremely motivating when you get through those events, and it illuminates areas you need to work on in order to become a better Soldier."