Written by Spc. Michael Vanpool
101st Sustainment Brigade, 101st Airborne Division (AA) Public Affairs
Fort Campbell, KY – In between reintegration, setting up their battalion’s new headquarters, and returning to life here, four engineer officers with the 326th Engineer Battalion are wasting no time.
When their hands are free from work, they’re busy tying knots and rigging rescue carriers. These tasks will help them when they venture to Fort Leonard Wood, MO, next month.
The 326th Engineer Battalion, 101st Sustainment Brigade, is slated to send two teams to compete at the Eighth Annual Best Sapper Competition, April 19th-21st, where the Army’s top combat engineers and sappers go head to head with each other.
Just a couple months ago, the 326th was landing back here after a year-long deployment to Iraq. Although there was talk about competing, no one started the heavy training until after block leave in January.
“We started training for this about a month ago,” said Capt. Robert Putnam, the construction officer in charge for the operations section of the battalion. “Some of the units train months for this.”
The major focus was crafting a Physical Training plan. They’re intensifying the plan with strength and endurance exercises to prepare for the nonstop three-day event. Putnam said they need to ruck at least 18 miles with 65 added pounds.
“You’re on your feet the whole time,” said Cpt. Stephen Kraus, the plans officer for the 326th. “You need to be in good shape and used to putting in that distance and carrying that load, but then applying that with technical events.”
The precise measurements, calculations and placements at the technical events will not be done in a quiet building. They’ll be done after countless miles of rucking and sandwiched in-between other events.
So stress is added into their PT plan to prepare them. One morning they found the largest hills here and ran sprints to the top. “When we got to the top, we’d tie knots, just to get used to that stress, “ Kraus said.
Detonating explosives, assembling foreign weapons and rigging rescue carriers are just some of the tests that lie ahead. More than a ruck’s worth of knowledge guides the tasks, but they’re going in without any reference cards, field manuals or notes of any kind.
The competition will take their physical strengths and specialized knowledge to the test, just like a sapper in combat operations. They move into an area tactically and clear the path for operations.
“The engineer’s bread and butter will always be technical, there’s a lot of technical knowledge that goes into being an engineer,” Putnam said.
“You’re talking about doing movement to a bridge, blowing the bridge up and extracting out of that area,” he said. “That’s taking that technical knowledge and applying it to an actual purpose, a technical purpose.“