What do you get when you put together three generations of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Great Lakes and Ohio River Division aide-de-camps, a physically and mentally demanding 50-hour long competition, and less than two weeks of preparation?
A top 20 finish – out of 48 teams and 96 participants. (18th to be exact.)
The Best Sapper Competition began in 2005 as a means for service members in the engineering discipline to show off their skills. The word "Sapper" is derived from French termed a sappe, or "entrenching tool" used by the French Military to dig trenches to allow besieging forces to advance towards the enemy defensive works and forts. The three-day Sapper competition, hosted by Ft. Leonard Wood in Missouri, is open to Soldiers and Marines, SPC and above, serving in the 12-series engineering career field.
Organized into two-person teams, the competition's concept is to not only determine the next "Best Sapper", but to challenge and test the servicemembers' knowledge, physical prowess and mental fortitude. The competition consists of 36 events designed to test the critical skills and knowledge of combat engineers, as well as the agility, endurance and resilience of each competitor.
Our story begins with Capt. Meyer Ungerman, who formerly served as LRD Commander Maj. Gen. Bob Whittle’s aide-de-camp just a few years ago, and is currently serving as Engineering Operations Officer at U.S. Army Southern European Task Force, Africa in Vicenza, Italy. Capt. Ungerman originally signed up to compete in the Best Sapper Competition with one of his colleagues. However, when he heard the news that this teammate was unable to compete, he was in dire need of a partner.
With only a few weeks before the competition, Capt. Ungerman did not want his hard work and preparation for the competition go to waste. His first instinct was to reach out to the aide-de-camp that proceeded him at the Great Lakes and Ohio River Division, Capt. Robert Provine. Capt. Provine was already at Ft. Leonard Wood where the competition was being held, attending the U.S. Army Engineer Captains Course.
“When Meyer asked me to sub-in, I just knew I wasn’t prepared,” said Capt. Provine. “But I knew someone who was.”
Capt. Provine reached out to his old West Point colleague, and (you guessed it) current LRD aide-de-camp to Division Commander Col. Kimberly Peeples, Capt. Kyle Werner.
“I knew Kyle would be ready, because he’s always prepared,” said Capt. Provine. “He even runs ultra-marathons; I knew he could do it.”
With their team assembled and only two weeks left to prepare, the generations of LRD teammates, past and present, worked with the resources they had to make the best of their hasty situation. Capt. Ungerman and Capt. Werner traveled to Ft. Leonard Wood to begin training. With the help of Capt. Provine as a “de-facto” coach, coordinator, and sponsor; and the support of LRD’s Command staff of past and present, the team began putting in the work.
“I couldn’t really train much with such a short amount of time,” said Capt. Werner. “But for events like this, I’m always prepared.”
The event kicked off on April 22, where participants would spend the next few days enduring all kinds of physical and mental challenges, including an “X-mile” ruck of unknown distance with a backpack full of gear.
“The X-mile ruck was the toughest event,” said Capt. Werner. “Ft. Leonard Wood is known for displaying different seasons throughout the day. So going from 80 degrees and sunny to 30 degrees with icy rain, it was a challenging environment to perform in over the course of 20+ miles. I am grateful that I had Meyer by my side to help motivate me to finish the event and the competition.”
All in all, the Capt. Ungerman and Cpt. Werner did the absolute best with the cards they were dealt.
“We were proud of our performance. Capt. Provine arranged our team two weeks before the competition, I met Capt. Ungerman a week before the start of the competition,” said Cpt. Werner. “We worked tirelessly during the five days we had to prepare ourselves for the grueling 50 hours of competition.”
The teammates returned to their current commands after the gruesome and challenging event. Although Capt. Werner and Capt. Ungerman are interested in competing again -- for the time being, they are pleased to be back home.
Capt. Ungerman said he was most excited to return and enjoy a “nice Italian espresso”, and shared some exciting news about an upcoming transition.
“I am happy to be back in Italy,” said Capt. Ungerman. “I am leaving SETAF-AF to join the 54th Brigade Engineer Battalion here in Italy."
Capt. Werner was mostly excited to get his “big dog kisses” from his new pup, Blu.
“I couldn’t be happier to be back at LRD,” said Capt. Werner. “I am grateful for Colonel Peeples signing off and letting me compete in the BSC. The Division’s support helped motivate me through tougher times during the competition.”
When the opportunity presented itself, it took courage and determination to rise to the occasion and make the best of the situation. Each of these current and former LRD teammates put their heads together and soldiered on. Their efforts perfectly exemplify the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers motto – "Essayons: We will try".