U.S. Army Sapper Soldiers helocast into Lake of the Ozarks
OSAGE BEACH, Mo. -- Soldiers helocast into Lake of the Ozarks during the U.S. Army Sapper Leaders Course November 2, 2009. The Sapper Leader Course is a 28-day, joint-service course designed to create "elite" combat engineers in all aspects of mobili... (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. -- While the majority of Soldiers who wear the Sapper tab on their shoulder also sport the engineer castle on their dress blues, not all do.

"The course is designed to train service members to become a Sapper Leaders," said Capt. John Chambers, Sapper Leader Course chief of training, "While experience as a combat engineer is helpful, it is not required in order to attend."

"The most important thing is having the desire to learn and the drive to make it through the course," he said.

The Sapper Leader Course is a 28-day, joint-service course designed to create "elite" combat engineers in all aspects of mobility, counter mobility, and survivability here at the U.S. Army Engineer School.

According to Sapper chief instructor, Sgt. 1st Class Troy Winters, the course hosts approximately 300 service members annually with only 40 percent graduating to receive the coveted U.S. Army Sapper tab.

Sapper course instructors teach the students mountaineering, water operations, conventional and expedient demolitions, urban breaching, airborne operations, and many other engineer related tasks.

While some of the material covered at the course is introduced during entry-level and advanced individual training, the majority of the material is designed for sergeants and officers in leadership positions.

For non-engineer Soldiers like Sgt. Keith Willson, a petroleum supply specialist assigned to the Forward Support Company, 5th Engineer Battalion, the Sapper tasks must be introduced, learned and performed to standard in less than one month.

"I was nervous about what to expect at this school," he said. "I've only got two years in the military and I was jumping head first into an elite school full of elite Soldiers."

Willson was encouraged to attend the Sapper Leader Course by his platoon sergeant, Sgt. 1st Class Robert Wempe, who said that he believed Willson possessed both the physical and mental toughness required to successfully complete the intense infantry and engineer tactics course.

Wempe was right.

Willson received a first time "go" for all Sapper qualification events including breaching reinforced doors and walls, rappelling off of a cliff, making expedient demolitions, airborne operations, tactical boating operations and swimming the Lake of the Ozarks with a weighted ruck sack.

"This course really pumped me up," said Willson.

Willson said after his graduation from the Sapper Leader Course, he decided that he would re-enlist to attend the U.S. Army Ranger course next year.

"I would recommend that any Soldier looking to push to the next level try to attend a physically demanding, advanced course like this," he said.

"It reminded me of why I joined the Army in the first place; it made me proud to be a Soldier."

According to the official Sapper Leader Course Web site, the course is open to enlisted Soldiers in the rank of specialist and above, cadets, and officers in the rank of captain and below. Priority fill for the course's coveted slots go to officers in combat arms and combat support branches as well as enlisted Soldiers holding the military occupational specialty of combat engineer, infantrymen, cavalry scout and Special Forces engineer.

Soldiers interested in attending the course should speak with their first-line supervisor, schools or retention sergeant for more information.