Local soldier competes in Sapper competition

Local soldier competes in Sapper competition

Posted: Friday, May 13, 2011 5:01 pm

By Air Force
Staff Sgt.
Jessica Switzer
FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — It takes hard work to be the best of the best. But for the son of a Rives woman, it takes getting up before dawn, pushing to the breaking point, then pushing some more to become a part of an elite group of Army engineers who can claim to be the absolute best at what they do.
Army Staff Sgt. Robert K. Smith, son of Mary Byars, and his teammate were one of 37 teams to participate in the Army’s Best Sapper competition, a grueling three days filled with back-to-back events designed to test all their Sapper (combat engineer) skills.
“I decided to compete this year because my performance last year wasn’t as good as I’d hoped,” said Smith, a 2004 graduate of Obion County Central High School. “I wanted to do better this year.”
Competitors needed to be in top physical condition to make it through the events. The first day started before dawn with a non-standard physical fitness test. The two-person teams ran three miles carrying their weapons and wearing their body armor, complete with nine-pound small arms protective insert plates. As soon as they crossed the finish line, they performed as many push-ups and sit-ups as possible in five minutes. Then they had to use an overhead bar and lift their bodyweight high enough to cross their ankles above the bar as many times as they could in three minutes.
“I did a lot of physical training that focused on muscular strength and endurance to prepare for this competition,” said Smith. “I also did a lot of swimming.”
There was no rest for Smith or any of the other Sappers during the competition. Immediately after the test was completed, they were loaded onto a helicopter and flown out over a small lake and dropped into the 54-degree water. From there on out, they were timed and graded on everything: how long it took to swim to shore, how long it took them to walk from one station to the next with all of their gear how long it took them to complete the tasks at each event.
The first and second days tested the Sappers’ ability to perform certain tasks like evacuating casualties, land navigation, calling for fire on a target, breaching doors using several different methods, creating different kinds of bombs and assembling weapons.
“The road march and x-mile run will be the most physically demanding event,” said Smith, a combat engineer assigned to the 570th Sapper Company, Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Tacoma, Wash.
Smith and the other competitors had very little opportunity to sleep during the 56 hours of the competition. Sometimes they would get to a station early and be able to grab a catnap while they waited for their turn, but there was no scheduled time for sleep.
By the time the third day rolled around, the Sappers were exhausted, but still pushing toward the finish line.
“This competition is a chance to compete with the best soldiers my career field and the Army has to offer,” said Smith.
The final event was a series of 10 stations spaced throughout a nine-mile course. The competitors started the run in their gas masks, then they drove a spike, pulled a Humvee, flipped a tractor tire, dragged chains, carried concertina wire and a crater charge, and ended by breaking through two doors and sprinting to the finish line past hundreds of soldiers cheering them on.
“After last year’s competition, I think my teammate and I can be contenders for the title this year,” said Smith, who has been in the Army for seven years.
In the end, only one team can win the title of Best Sapper but every participant pushed hard and found new limits they didn’t know they had. Win or lose, Smith and the other competitors will return to their home units with lessons learned and memories gained.

Published in The Messenger 5.13.11

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