Eight Wisconsin Army National Guard Soldiers took part in the second annual Sapper Stakes competition, a demanding competition that tested the limits of their teamwork and combat engineer skills, Aug. 30-Sept. 1 at Fort Chaffee, Ark.
Staff Sgt. Josh Steffens, Sgt. Levi Parker, Spc. Aaron Galindo, Spc. Craig Kiesgow, Spc. Josh Mezyk, Spc. Alex Scray, Spc. Cody Hartmann and Pfc. Zach Tesch of the Medford, Wisconsin-based 273rd Sapper Engineer Company were among nearly 100 National Guard and Army Reserve combat engineers to compete in the series of combat-related events in hot, humid weather.
Of the 16 Army Reserve and four Army National Guard teams, only eight made it to the final event. The Soldiers of the 273rd were the only National Guard team to finish, placing fourth overall.
The competition required proficiency in combat engineer tasks and common Soldier skills, and tested the Soldiers’ physical endurance. In addition to covering 45 miles over the course of three days — running, marching, and lugging a rucksack — teams performed 500 “burpee” exercises and hundreds of pushups, and carried painfully heavy objects between events.
“Sapper Stakes is the kind of event that absolutely augments the training the individual and team-based skills Soldiers are learning throughout the training year, at battle assemblies and at [Extended Combat Trainings],” said Capt. Chris Scott, the officer in charge of Sapper Stakes 2015. “I would even say that it is another cumulative training event Soldiers can look forward to outside of ECT in terms of overall readiness and improving the warfighting abilities of the regiment.”
Steffens recognized the training value in the competition.
“Sapper Stakes has been a challenge, beginning from day one,” he said. “It’s not only a physical challenge, but it’s a mental challenge as well. There are different challenges that we don’t normally do so it’s good to come down here, train with other team leaders, other teams, see how they operate and combine arms, so we can take something out of this. Worst-case scenario, even if we do not place, we’re still training, we’re still learning, and we’re still meeting outstanding Soldiers from other units.”
According to Parker, the 273rd Engineer Company team was aware of the Sapper Stakes a month or two before the event, but did not receive confirmation that they could participate until three weeks prior. However, the company was beginning a three-week annual training at that time.
“We came straight from three weeks of A.T. to the competition,” Parker said.
Despite the lack of preparation, the Soldiers of the 273rd persevered and completed the competition.
“We didn’t get a lot of time to train as a team, but it was still a great team experience,” Galindo said. “Being the only Guard team [in the finals] was a lot of motivation for our team to push on.
“It comes down to motivation, when it’s hot like that and you’re running on minimum sleep and minimum food,” he added.
Parker said he learned a lot about himself, his limits and what he is capable of enduing.
“I learned about teamwork and leadership,” he said. “After it’s all said and done, and nobody gave up, nobody quit, yeah, I’d like to do it again. I’d want more preparation time, though.”
Galindo said knowing what each team member brought to the table was crucial. One team member is a civilian paramedic, which was helpful during evaluated Soldier tasks such as requesting a medevac.
“I’m definitely not ever going to forget it,” Galindo said. “This event brought our whole team closer together.”
“We didn’t get first,” Parker added, “but we didn’t lose.”
Staff Sgt. Debralee Best, 412th Theater Engineer Command, contributed to this report.