Leaders from the 1st Engineer Brigade officially opened the Sapper Leader Course's new rappel tower Aug. 28, and they did it as only Sappers would -- by being the first to rappel down the tower.
After cutting the ribbon on top of the 40-foot, steel tower in full rappelling gear, 1st Engineer Brigade Commander Col. Kip Korth and Command Sgt. Maj. Robert Ferguson, who both wear the Sapper tab, hooked in and started a free rappel from the front of the tower.
About 10 feet down, they stopped, linked their feet together and shouted in unison, "Sappers first," and the crowd responded with a thunderous, "Sappers lead the way," as instructors from the Sapper Leader Course unveiled a new Sapper tab sign that hangs from the tower.
Although it only took about a minute for the command team to rappel down the tower, Korth said the replacement project started more than five years ago.
One Sapper credited with the new tower construction is Sgt. 1st Class Timothy Jacobs, Sapper Leader Course chief of operations, Ferguson said.
"Sgt. 1st Class Jacobs continued the fight for years to make sure that the specifications of the tower met the requirements for the changing of the Program of Instruction (POI) and had the capability to incorporate future training," Ferguson said. "Col. Korth and I are really proud of this noncommissioned officer, and he will have a lasting legacy on the Engineer Regiment."
Jacobs, who has been involved in the project since 2014, said the replacement was necessary due to the degradation of the old tower's core structural support and the cost associated with the improvements.
"It was more expensive to make the needed improvements than it was to build a replacement," Jacobs said.
Plans for a new tower started, and though it took several years to navigate through funding challenges, Jacobs' and the team's determination paid off.
"We were extremely persistent, there was no other option," he said. "We kept all of the chains of command in the loop, and we were finally able to push it through and get it approved."
He credits his fellow Sappers.
"I am immensely excited that the new tower became a reality," Jacobs said. "It really was a team effort."
According to Korth, the new tower is a "big deal" to the Engineer Regiment.
"This tower symbolizes a lot of things within our regiment," Korth said. "In particular to the Sapper Leader Course, (the tower) demonstrates the professionalism of our course to make it the most capable, most on-the-cutting edge and safest that we can make our training."
Sapper Training Company Commander Capt. Jason Richmond agreed and said he is looking forward to training Sappers on the new tower "versus the old wooden tower."
The old wooden tower was built in 1987 and was obsolete, Richmond said. The new steel tower, he said, is a needed tool that "modernizes the training for Sappers." It features anchors on all sides, with two for fast roping; a rappel wall and a climbing wall on the side; and a skid side where it is open, adding to its effectiveness, he said.
"Sappers will gain a better training aspect from the new tower than they did on the old tower," Richmond said.
Within the Sapper Leader Course's training, the tower provides the "crawl" phase of mountaineering for Sapper students, Ferguson said. Once proficient on the tower, students move to the "walk" phase, which is conducted at a cliff site near the Rubidoux River. The "run" phase of mountaineering operations is student-led and is completed during patrolling within the course, Ferguson said.
"While these tasks are not on every engineer unit's Mission Essential Task List, the knowledge of the 'how to' gives the Sapper the 'No Fear of Challenges' mentality we are trying to instill in our Sapper leaders," Ferguson said. "That mentality will enable the leaders of the Engineer Regiment to take every task head on, with the ability to find creative solutions to breach, bypass or solve other problems."