FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — April 1 marks the closing day of registration for the 14th Lt. Gen. Robert Flowers Best Sapper Competition, and U.S. Army Engineer School leaders will next evaluate all of the two-person teams and compile a final list of competitors.
The three-day event is set to take place here May 1 to 3.
Without giving away any specifics on the planned challenges, Capt. Jacob Davel, Sapper Training Company commander, said this year’s competition will be very familiar to anyone who has participated or watched in years past.
“Sapper tasks are the name of the game,” he said. “Those familiar and proficient in tasks taught at the Sapper Leader Course should be very successful.”
Davel said 49 teams have registered for the competition from all over the country, and as far away as Italy, Alaska and Hawaii. Two are made up of National Guard members; one is Reserve; and there’s an all-female team from the 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Stewart, Georgia. Five teams are stationed here.
Staff Sgts. Rafael Agosto and Cody StGermain, drill sergeants assigned to Company D, 35th Engineer Battalion, said they hope having a home-field advantage will make a difference.
Originally from San Antonio, Agosto is a senior drill sergeant coming up on three years at Fort Leonard Wood.
“Being here, we walk all these rucks already,” he said. “Whenever we tailor our marches, we try to take (the trainees) to a portion of the actual Sapper 12-miler course; we’re always out training on those hills.”
Agosto completed the Sapper Leader Course in 2016 and participated in the 2019 competition. He said the surprise element — not knowing what the events will be “until the last minute” — is one of the biggest challenges.
“I had to carry a water jug (at the 2019 competition),” he said. “I could only carry it with one hand. We could pass it to our battle buddy, but after that first mile, my forearm was hurting.”
Despite that, and the “super heavy” rucks, Agosto said the competition is a lot of fun.
“I had a blast,” he said. “I like pushing myself; having someone next to me who also likes to push themselves. It definitely helps me not get complacent. Being around that entire environment is really just a fun experience.”
Agosto’s teammate, StGermain, completed the SLC last year and just volunteered for a third year as a drill sergeant. He said he hopes to become an SLC instructor one day, and that he lives for competition.
“I want to see exactly how I compare to the rest of the Sapper graduates,” he said. “The Sapper Leader Course is the premier school for engineers. A competition like this? Why wouldn’t you want to do it?”
StGermain, from Highlands, N.C., said he looks forward to the challenges in his near future.
“It’s several days of just non-stop — carrying heavy stuff and being mentally exhausted,” he said. “You’re always having to complete mini tasks you wouldn’t expect. The surprises — they put enough out there to get you started, but the surprise element really determines how well you can quickly react to something that is completely out of your realm. A lot of it is to test you mentally; (to see) how you are going to react to it.”
Delta Company just received a new group of trainees last week, but Agosto and StGermain said they will still make time to get in extra training, despite their long work days.
“It’s going to be a little tougher with our hours, but we’ve put together a timeline,” StGermain said.
Agosto said inspiring trainees as a Sapper role model motivates him to work harder.
“There are only going to be a few people in these groups coming here who are going to want to push themselves (to be a Sapper), but hopefully when they see us pushing ourselves, that’s the spark for the flame that will get them going,” he said.
“I try to end every sentence with ‘Sappers lead the way,’” he added. “Just putting that in their heads.”