Competitors prepare to 'be all they can be' for Best Sapper Competition

By Melissa BuckleyApril 8, 2024

Local competitors prepare to be all they can be for Best Sapper Competition
1st Lt. Aron Carrow and Sgt. 1st Class Guillermo Sanchez, with the 35th Engineer Battalion, train for the non-standard physical fitness test portion of the Best Sapper Competition April 1 at Training Area 106. According to the Best Sapper Competition’s Facebook page, the test consists of crater can front squats, burpees over a low wall, dead lifts, log step ups, low crawling through a tub on your back, crater can press ups, crater can squat thrusters, crater can lunges, a 200-meter crater can run and a 3-mile run. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army photo by Melissa Buckley) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — With the Best Sapper Competition just two weeks away, local competitors said they are diligently preparing their bodies and minds for the intense challenge.

The 17th Lt. Gen. Robert B. Flowers Best Sapper Competition will start April 19, 2024, in Waynesville, and finish April 22 at Fort Leonard Wood. The competition showcases the Army's elite Soldiers in combat engineering military occupational specialties.

Capt. Brandon Ferraz, 1st Engineer Brigade Headquarters and Headquarters Company commander; and Staff Sgt. Gary Coggins, a drill sergeant for Company D, 31st Engineer Battalion; said they are currently weaving their Sapper training schedule into their assiduous work schedules to compete together.

“We have a significant amount of training laid on for next week,” Ferraz said.

Between the two, they have already competed five times for the title of Best Sapper. Coggins’ team placed second in 2018.

“Having competed many years between us, we fully expect the curveballs, and we know that the challenges we will face will be complex; therefore, we not only need to know a skill, we need to know how to put it into practice,” Ferraz said.

Capt. Ryan Reid, Sapper Training Company commander, said the theme of this year’s competition is transparency.

The competition’s organizers have been releasing lists of some of the Sapper tasks the competitors will be conducting and instructional videos to help them prepare.

“Units can streamline their training programs as they prepare their competitors for the Best Sapper Competition,” Reid said. “We are giving them the answers. Now, it is a question of if they studied and who is really the best.”

Ferraz said his team is taking advantage of the provided study guide, while preparing mentally to be flexible and unbreakable.

Local competitors prepare to be all they can be for Best Sapper Competition
Capt. Brandon Ferraz, 1st Engineer Brigade Headquarters and Headquarters Company commander, and Staff Sgt. Gary Coggins, a drill sergeant for Company D, 31st Engineer Battalion, practice operating a robot April 3, 2024 at Training Area 401 in preparation for the Best Sapper Competition April 19 to 22, 2024. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army photo by Melissa Buckley) VIEW ORIGINAL

“This year’s competition has by far been the most transparent, and I think the transparency will aid in increasing competition. We have taken the hints to focus our training efforts, understanding that the hints are only a portion of what we may face throughout the competition,” Ferraz said. “The mind is the hardest part to train in preparation for the competition, as self-doubt will inevitably cross the mind. Thus, we have continuously pushed our physical boundaries to callous the mind. The best thing to do is control what you can and do what you know. Sappers are taught to be innovative and to achieve mission success, regardless of available assets. We like to say, ‘When in doubt, figure it out.’”

Ferraz graduated from the Sapper Leader Course in 2016, and Coggins in 2015. Some of the Sapper skills they are brushing up on include Bangalore and wire obstacle breaching, threat ordnance identification and robotics training.

The team has been training for the competition since December 2023.

“We have focused our efforts on aerobic and anaerobic training. Much of our training has been high intensity, endurance-style training under heavy load,” Ferraz said.

How appropriate to be competing in April, the Month of the Military Child, that Ferraz’s motivation to — be all he can be — comes from his children.

“There is nothing more exciting and motivating than to see our children amongst the spectators cheering us onward. To be titled the Best Sapper would show our children the importance of hard work and dedication in reaching your goals,” Ferraz said.

The 1st Eng. Bde. is fielding another team as well — Sgt. 1st Class Guillermo Sanchez, senior drill sergeant for Company C; and 1st Lt. Aron Carrow, platoon leader for Company D; are both with the 35th Engineer Battalion.

Sanchez said his personal motivation comes from his fellow Sappers.

“My leadership at the Sapper Leader Course and the ones since then have instilled the importance of always striving to be the best I can be and to not lose my purpose,” Sanchez said. “One of them is Master Sgt. Ivan Varela. He is competing this year for the 75th Ranger Regiment. He was my squad leader when I was a private. He has set the standard for me to keep following.”

When Sanchez competed last year, he didn’t make it to the finish line, but he didn’t let that discourage him.

“When my team was dropped, I already knew I wanted to compete this year. I have been training since April of last year,” Sanchez said.

His teammate, Carrow, earned his Sapper tab in June of 2023, and immediately started training for the competition.

Local competitors prepare to be all they can be for Best Sapper Competition
Capt. Robert Skinker (center, right) and 1st Lt. Luke Orsay, with the 5th Engineer Battalion, raise the Rugged Best Sapper Competition trophy, presented by Col. Aaron Cox, 36th Engineer Brigade commander (right), and 36th En. Bde. Command Sgt. Maj. Keyon Cummings Dec. 7, 2023 at Gerlach Field. Skinker and Orsay will be competing in the Best Sapper Competition April 19 to 22, 2024. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army photo by Melissa Buckley) VIEW ORIGINAL

One of the ways they are preparing is to train with more weight than they will be using during the non-standard physical fitness test during the competition.

“We know we are already going to be depleted and tired with 40 pounds. So, we made the cratering charge canister we are training with 53 pounds. We raised the weight on our dead lift, too. The idea is to make everything harder now, so the day of the actual test, it will seem a little lighter,” Sanchez said.

Another Fort Leonard Wood Best Sapper Competition team was the winner of the 36th Engineer Brigade's Rugged Best Sapper Competition, hosted in December 2023 at Fort Leonard Wood by the 5th Engineer Battalion. The brigade uses the winter competition to find the Soldiers they want to register for the regimental competition.

Although the teammates are both assigned to the 5th Engineer Battalion, their situation is fairly unique because they serve in different states.

Capt. Robert Skinker is the commander of the 50th Multi-Role Bridge Company on Fort Leonard Wood, and 1st Lt. Luke Orsay is the executive officer for the 515th Combat Engineer Company Armored, based at Fort Riley, Kansas.

Skinker said when they are able to get together, they study technical skills.

“While apart, we coordinate our workouts through a shared physical training plan,” Skinker said.

Soon they plan to change from a mix of strength and endurance training to mostly endurance.

Skinker said they are making sure to leave time for technical study.

“Our coaches have been working tirelessly to put together a training regimen to spend these last two weeks as efficiently as possible,” Skinker said.

The first BSC event is open to the public and scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. on April 19, 2024, at Roubidoux Park in Waynesville. Photos from the competition will be available to view and download from Fort Leonard Wood’s Flickr page.