FORT STEWART, Ga. – Soldiers from the 9th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Stewart, Georgia, worked tirelessly over the last several months preparing both mentally and physically for what will be one of the biggest tests of strength and fortitude they will face in their lives. 1st Lt. Trisha M. Burden and 2nd Lt. Amanda D. Atkinson are slated to compete against the rest of the Army’s most elite sapper qualified Soldiers at the 14th Annual Lt. Gen. Robert B. Flowers Best Sapper Competition from May 1-3, 2021, at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.
Last year, the first all-female team applied and was accepted to attend the Best Sapper Competition, but it was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This year marks the first time an all-female team will compete. The three-day competition is open for two-person teams that consist of at least one Sapper Leader Course graduate. Soldiers’ rank and military occupational specialty do not matter.
“The Gila team is proud of our Best Sapper Competitors – they represent the fighting spirit of the combat engineer,” said Lt. Col. Brian Looney, commander of the 9th BEB. “They have been executing some tough and demanding training to ensure they are prepared for the arduous road ahead.”
The preparation for the competition is arduous as Burden and Atkinson train for engineer tasks that can range from land navigation to demolition. When they decided to attend the competition, then began a grueling training progression to prepare.
“It was a lot of running, a lot of running…we did a lot of either running or rucking on the tank trails,” said Burden. “We would average anywhere from 35 to 50 miles a week.”
Burden is a Danby, Vermont native who graduated from the University of Vermont in May 2017, where she commissioned as an engineer officer. She is a graduate of the Army’s Engineer Basic Officer Leader Course and Sapper Leader Course. Since Burden’s assignment to the 9th BEB in December 2018, she has served as a route clearance platoon leader, company executive office and battalion logistics officer. Currently, Burden serves as the brigade headquarters and headquarters company executive officer.
The competition's concept is to challenge and test the Soldiers' knowledge, physical ability and mental strength. The competition highlights the Army's elite Soldiers in combat engineering professions. The teams travel over 50 miles in 50 hours, uncertain what the course has in store for them.
“We had a really good coach - Master Sgt. Spaulding- he’s a really good runner, very good at endurance and so he was…training us and giving us pointers. We can tell we’ve come a long way and so that was our main focus when it came to the physical part,” said Atkinson.
Atkinson a Harbeson, Delaware native, graduated from East Carolina University in May 2020 in Greenville, North Carolina, where she commissioned as an engineer officer. She is a graduate of the Army’s Air Assault School, Engineer Basics Officer Leader Course and Sapper Leader Course. Since Atkinson’s assignment to the 9th BEB she has served as a battalion staff officer while she awaits an opening for a platoon leader position.
“The brigade is tremendously proud of our Best Sapper competitors. These Soldiers represent the technical and tactical experts within the ranks of the combat engineers. We have no doubt their warrior spirit will carry the day. They are ready to compete and we know they will represent the 3rd Infantry Division well,” said Col. Terry R. Tillis, commander of 2nd ABCT.