Soldiers of the 2nd Engineer Battalion conducted the final Sapper Steel Stakes training competition to be run on White Sands Missile Range Jan. 28 and 29.
Sapper Steel Stakes is a competition the Battalion holds regularly to test a variety of skills and abilities important to the combat engineer. The events vary slightly from competition to competition, but every competition focuses on combat engineer skills, infantry and basic Soldier skills, and stress based challenges that force the Soldier to rapidly transition from physically demanding challenges to ones that require fine motor skills or a focused mind. While the events are more challenging than more conventional training, making it a competitive event allows the Soldiers to get that important time in the field, while keeping the training exciting and fun. “This training right here is the best training you can get. It’s hands-on, it’s fun, it makes you want to do it,” said Spc. Nicholas Strogham, with the 40th Mobility Augmentation Company.
Beginning early in the morning, the Soldiers were taken out to the demolitions range, where they had to assemble a variety of different explosives; including breaching charges, anti-personnel grapeshot charges, and improvised Bangalore torpedoes; a special tubular charge used to destroy obstacles like razor wire. Later, the Soldiers had to work through a land navigation course, finding various points on one of WSMR’s training areas, in a limited amount of time.
A stress shooting segment took the Soldiers into the night, where they had to conduct physical exercises and then hit small balloon targets using rifles or carbines, then crawl and run, and switch to machine guns. This proved very challenging to the Soldiers as they were already tired from the preceding activities, and the targets were rather difficult to see in the dimly lit range. The competition continued through the night with various training lane style competitions based around weapons proficiency, mine detection, and the use of other clearance tools. After staying up late into the night, the two man teams had to complete the competition with a 12 mile march back to the battalion headquarters. “It’s a big test about how far individuals can push themselves as well as how much they know about combat engineer skills, both legacy and some of the new stuff,” said Capt. Nate Weander, company commander of the 2D Engineer Battalions’ 40th Mobility Augmentation Company.
Out of the 26 teams, this year’s winners were 1st Lt. Cody Millhouse and 1st. Lt. Andrew Storey. Storey and Millhouse, defending champions from the previous Sapper Steel Stakes, have been training for the event with plans to later go on and compete in the Iron Sapper competition at Fort Bliss. “It’s very similar and we train on almost the exact same aspects of it, so it’s an excellent train up for the Iron Sapper event,” Millhouse said.
The second place team was 2nd Lt. Elena Spielman, and Sgt. 1st Class Joshua Seawright, followed by Capt. Nate Weander and 1st Lt. Aaron Mathys in third.
With the 2nd Engineer Battalion set to move to Fort Bliss later this year, this Sapper Steel Stakes is a bit bittersweet. “I’m going on my third year here and I thought they did an excellent job making use of all the unique training territory we have, from the small arms range, all they way up to Mountain Village. I was very pleased with White Sands’ support of it all,” Storey said.
The next competition 2nd Engineer Battalion Soldiers are expected to compete in will be the Iron Sapper competition at Fort Bliss. The Battalion Soldiers that compete in that have a title to defend, with both the first and third place from the 2014 Iron Sapper competition being 2E members.