FORT PICKETT, Va. –
A squad of Virginia National Guard Soldiers assigned to the Fredericksburg-based 116th Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 116th IBCT took first place in the Sapper Stakes competition conducted by the Fort Bragg, North Carolina-based 37th Engineer Battalion, 82nd Airborne Division May 7, 2016, at Fort Pickett, Virginia. The team navigated multiple stations including emplacement of a wire obstacle, leadership reaction course, obstacle course, rope bridge urban breach and M4 rifle qualification. A total of 18 teams took part in the competition, and the Virginia Guard engineers completed the course in seven hours and five minutes, 14 minutes ahead of the second place team. Soldiers from the 116th BSTB joined engineers from the 37th BEB for numerous training opportunities at Fort Pickett that was part of an ongoing partnership between the two units.
“We are very proud of Staff Sgt. Newton and his squad,” said Lt. Col. Charles Martin, commander of the 116th BSTB. “They performed exceptionally well and brought home the trophy. It was great to witness first-hand the determination, drive and resiliency of the BSTB Sappers as they competed head-to-head with 17 active duty squads.”
Martin said that each team member at some point in the competition had a key moment that contributed to the overall squad success. They now have a special, shared sense of accomplishment that they will treasure for years to come, he said.
The following Soldiers made up the winning squad: Staff Sgt. Frederick Newton, Sgt. Steven Fletcher, Sgt. Daniel Foltz, Spc. Matthew Davis, Spc. Zachary Rook, , Spc. David Ha and Spc. Nicholas Shidlovsky,
In addition to the competition, Soldiers spent two weeks working with the 37th BEB as part of a training partnership between the two units that has been beneficial to both, Martin explained.
“One example is training with our engineer equipment,” he said. “In several instances, we have newer model dozers and graders that the 37th BEB has not yet fielded as well as having more experienced operators. Many of those operators bring additional experience from their civilian occupations. When we train together, we share that expertise, and we get additional training time on very well-resourced, planned and mission-focused tasks.”
While Virginia may have greater experience with certain types of engineer equipment, the engineers from the 37th have significant practical experience with demolitions and explosives.
“The 37th is using the most up to date techniques, tactics and procedures,” Martin said. “By embedding some of our NCOs and Soldiers into their formations over the last three weeks we are able to incorporate some of those TTPs into our own future training events.”
Martin said they laid the cornerstone for what they hope will be a solid foundation to build upon, and he also hopes to expand the partnership to include the battalion’s signal company and the brigade’s unmanned aerial system platoon.
The training between the two units is the foundation for future combat interoperability between the National Guard and active duty units, explained Lt. Col. Sebastian Pastor, commander of the 37th BEB. “There are a lot of lessons that we learned and that they learned from us in the past two weeks,” he said.
“We share our skill set with our brothers and sisters in the National Guard and the Army Reserve because you never know when you’ll deploy and .work with them hand-in-hand,” he said. “The BEB provides 25 to 30 percent capability that the engineer regiment can employ in support of a [BCT], so we have to rely on our partners . to provide the other 75 percent.”
The Sapper Stakes competition was designed to be a memorable culminating event for the two weeks of training at Fort Pickett with both individual and collective tasks. Pastor described it as “a grueling, challenging event in order to determine the best sapper squad within the battalion or the BSTB.”
The leader of the winning squad admitted the competition was strenuous.
“The events were challenging,” said Newton, leader of the winning squad, and he added that while his team had to push through the pain, “It was a good time. I think it really affirms that we’re doing the right things and it shows us some of the things we need to do better on.”
The partnership between the two units supports the Army Total Force Policy that was signed on Sept. 4, 2012. It aligns the force’s active and reserve components, providing an enhanced capability to meet the national military needs. The ATFP helps ensure the nation benefits from the experiences gained in the last decade of war, facilitates better integration of the three component forces and creates a more balanced total force.