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Rives resident participates in Army’s Best Sapper event

Rives resident participates in Army’s Best Sapper event
Special to The Messenger
FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — Jumping out of the back of a helicopter and into icy water at dawn with 90 pounds of gear for a swim across a pond is not a normal way to start the day. But for the son of a Rives couple, it was just a small part of one of the most intense 52 hours of his life.
Army Staff Sgt. Robert K. Smith, son of Mary Byars and stepson of Stephen Byars, competed in the three-day event called “Best Sapper” to determine what two-man team would endure as the Army’s best combat engineers.
Smith was part of a team from the 14th Engineer Battalion at Fort Lewis in Washington.
“I think it is a privilege to compete, but winning the competition would be a huge accomplishment,” said Smith, a 2004 graduate of Obion County High School.
Day one kicked off with the 29 teams taking a non-standard physical fitness test consisting of five minutes each of push-ups, pull-ups, chin-ups and a three mile run. After the run, the teams competed in a round robin phase that included knot tying and identification, various weapons assembly, mine identification and manual breaching of obstacles while carrying a mannequin on a stretcher.
Day two started with a rucksack march in the dark. When the sun came up the teams performed a helo cast and poncho raft swim while pulling their 90 pounds of gear. When they finished the swim, the teams demonstrated their skills in a set of events for the Sapper Stakes phase of the competition. They had to run an obstacle course, fire various weapons as quickly and accurately as they could, repel 90 feet down the face of a cliff, breach one door with explosives and another with a shotgun, build and detonate field expedient charges, and conduct room entry and clearance. A night navigation event through the woods took the teams into the final day of competition.
The teams ended the competition on day three with a close to 10-mile run. The run had a stake drive, bridge building, log cutting and a tire flip course that the teams had to complete before busting through a door for the final sprint to the finish line.
Smith and his teammate spent a lot of time leading up to Best Sapper training for whatever challenges they might face.
“We had a lot of physical training like distance runs and road marching as well as brushing up on all of the skills that a Sapper does,” said Smith, a squad leader at his unit.
For Smith, the amount of training leading up to the competition has prepared him for even what he might think of as the most difficult event.
“I think that the poncho raft event will be the toughest because I can’t swim,” said Smith.
Smith chose to participate in the grueling Best Sapper competition to challenge himself and compete against some of the best soldiers in the Army.
“I wanted to compete against the best soldiers in my career field. I also like doing all of the cool stuff like shooting guns, blowing stuff up and jumping out of helicopters,” said Smith.
Becoming a member of the Sapper team took hard work and dedication, and simply competing proves that Smith, and the 57 other soldiers competing with him, have that extra drive and determination to do what it takes to be the best.
Published in The Messenger 5.21.10

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