By Pfc. Robert England, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, Public AffairsMay 5, 2010
Two soldiers from the 66th Engineer Company, 2nd Brigade Combat Team (Advise and Assist Brigade), 25th Infantry Division participated in the sixth annual Best Sapper Competition held April 19-21 at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. to allow servicemembers to showcase their skills and compete for the title of "Best Sapper."
First Lt. Michael McLaughlin, executive officer, 66th Engineer Co., and 1st Lt. Garrett Haddad, 2nd Platoon leader, Engineer Co., were one of 30, two-person teams which overcame a series of obstacles designed to test the physical endurance and mental resilience of all participants. Entry was open to any Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine serving with an engineer specialty or who has completed Sapper school and earned the Sapper tab.
The competition consisted of 31 events spanning 52 hours, ranging from basic soldiering skills to advanced combat engineer training. Room-clearing procedures, Combat Life Saver (CLS) techniques and a night-time land navigation course challenged soldiers to recall essential soldier skills, while hazards such as land mines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) required the Sapper teams to utilize their ordnance training.
The Sappers took an Army Physical Fitness Test, including push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups, and a three-mile run in boots while weighed down with heavy body armor and weapons, to assess their physical fitness.
Each team's endurance was further tested by an obstacle course and a road march.
McLaughlin, who participated in last year's competition, was especially challenged with the difficulty of the road march in comparison to the 2009 event.
"I did the competition last year and the road march didn't seem too bad," McLaughlin said. "This year they changed the course quite a bit and it was probably the most hills I've ever done in my life."
Initially there were 30 teams competing. Progress was determined based on cumulative points accrued from each event.
Despite the fact that the brigade's Sapper team had only a week to train between arriving in garrison from the rotation at the National Training Center and departing for the competition, they still finished in sixth place against teams who had trained for months.
"We got back from NTC the fourth of April, and we had to leave a week later, so basically for that week we tried to get in the best shape possible," McLaughlin said. "Maybe with a little more time we could have performed a little better -- but sixth place for not really training, we're pleased with that."
"We were planning on using our Sapper handbooks at certain points," Haddad said. "It surprised us that we really had to memorize a lot more than we thought we did."
Capt. Joseph Byrnes and Capt. Jason Castro, both of C Co, 554th Engineer Battalion at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. won competition. Byrnes, a former member of the Warrior BDE and the 66th Engineer Co here, achieved his second overall victory after having won the competition in 2007.