Story by: Staff Sgt. Jeremy Fowler
FORT MCCOY, Wis. (May 13, 2014) -- Soldiers from the 382nd Engineer Company, 365th Engineer Battalion, 411th Engineer Brigade of the 412th Theater Engineer Command from Harrisburg, Pa., received the distinct honor of being titled the first-ever Army Reserve Best Sapper Team here, May 8.
The competition was hosted by the 412th and 416th Theater Engineer Commands, who account for all Army Reserve engineer assets and support units of more than 26,000 Soldiers, including all Reserve Sapper teams.
The two theater engineer commands collaborated to provide a unique competition for this unique type of Soldier.
"It feels pretty good, to come out here and actually win the whole thing, it's just great," said Spc. Dennis Kianka, a Peque, Pa., native, and member of the 382nd team.
Team leader for the 382nd competitors, Staff Sgt. Chad Thomas, a native of Newtown, Conn., was thrilled to finish with the new title, but more impressed at the performance of his team in their efforts at the competition. He attributes their victory here to their close-knit team spirit and drive.
"We're not the best; we're just the most well-rounded. We just did better than the other teams here," said Thomas. "To have [an officer] here come up to me and say we were 'the ones that stuck with it as a team,' that to me, as a leader, is gratifying."
Two other Sapper teams were honored for placing in the top three teams of the inaugural Reserve Sapper Stakes.
Soldiers of the 469th Engineering Company from the 372nd Engineer Brigade, 416th Theater Engineer Command, from Dodgeville, claimed second place in the contest, only a few points shy of the 382nd Engineer Company.
The Wausau Sapper team from the 428th Engineer Company, 372nd Engineer Brigade, 416th Theater Engineer Command, claimed the honor of third place for the overall competition.
Sappers are highly-trained combat engineers that specialize in the forward support of infantry units conducting reconnaissance of bridges and roads; mine detection and clearing operations; bridge, road and airfield construction and the use of explosives to aid allied units and impeded enemy forces.
Often working with, or ahead of infantry on the front lines, there are a variety of physical and mental demands, which were integrated as part of the competition.
Teamwork was essential to winning the events, and despite Thomas' modesty, he does relent that their camaraderie propelled them to first.
"We were all able to work together to get where we needed to be," said Thomas. "We made a list of what we thought were going to be critical tasks for our team to execute so we could just get those points where we could.
After that, I just told these guys to go out and 'you do you and we'll be fine.'"
Sappers are known for their ability to perform as a team in a tough and unforgiving environment, which is why the 382nd Soldiers fared so well in their bid for the title.
"All of these lanes are designed for a six-man team. They are graded on a team scale," Capt. Shawn Gilbert, battle captain for the competition. "So, if you have one Soldier that is best warrior, or runner-up, of the year, if he has five guys that he's trying to carry, then it's not going to work, because you get one score for your team. So, you have to work as a team."
The competition consisted of a series of combat engineer tasks with each team competing against 14 other teams from across the country vying for the title.
Teams were graded on their ability to conduct the tasks to standard, in the shortest time possible.
The events included two demolition challenges that tested the teams' knowledge of conducting controlled blasts; bridge reconnaissance; land navigation; approach and clear a house in an urban environment; detect and clear mines; emplace 30-meters of barbed wire; a ruck march of more than 10 miles; and various other stations.
The two theater engineer commands look forward to future competitions among these combat engineers because, while Soldier teams are competing against each other, they are also pushing themselves to learn more.
"I think this is really neat," said Maj. Gen. William Buckler Jr., commander of the 412th Theater Engineer Command.
"In the end, not only did we train all of you ... what you learned is that everyone on the left and right of you has that training ... just by competing, all of you are better trained, which makes you better trainers."
The competitors echo that sentiment and look forward to boning up their skills to return next year, better trained and better ready to excel at the contest.
"Honestly, it just makes me want to come back next year," said Spc. Preston VanAllen, with the 382nd Engineer Company. "It just makes me more excited for the future."
The two theater engineer commands plan on conducting this competition annually to ensure these Soldiers keep pushing themselves to learn more and be better trained, and to become trainers for their units.