St. Robert native to compete in ‘Best Sapper’ event next week at FLW
By: Darrell Todd Maurina
Posted: Saturday, April 18, 2009 11:22 pm
Staff Sgt. William Cook (shown at an earlier rank) will compete in the Best Sapper event at Fort Leonard Wood.
FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. (April 18, 2009) — When the Army Engineer School’s “Best Sapper” competition begins Monday morning, the contestants will include a 2002 Waynesville High School graduate who is a St. Robert native.
Staff Sgt. William Cook, currently assigned to an engineer unit at Fort Hood in Texas, will begin the difficult competition at 4 a.m. Monday and continue through a run that’s expected to end around 7:30 a.m. Wednesday at Gerlach Field. Competitions include a wide variety of events including nonstandard physical fitness tests, multimile runs, swimming after jumping out of helicopters, and tests of demolition expertise.
Cook said he expects the last run on Wednesday will be the most challenging, physically speaking, though tests of technical competence in demolition work will also be difficult.
“(On Wednesday), I’ll be tired from the past few days and I’m sure it’ll be rough,” Cook said. “I think just with demo calculations, it is very precise to get the amount you want. It’s challenging because there are lot of little ways you can mess up.”
While it’s difficult, Cook said the opportunity to do demolition work was a major part of his reason for choosing to be an Army engineer.
“This is the only school that I am aware of that you actually learn how to do demolition. People who join the engineers do blow stuff up, and you would never get that training anywhere else,” Cook said. “There are some things you will never do anywhere else in your life, jumping out of helicopters and whatever the case may be.”
Cook enlisted in October 2002, just a few months after graduating from high school. He’s been deployed to Iraq twice, and said he’s been able to use his engineer training extensively during both deployments to help soldiers do their missions.
His first deployment was with the 14th Engineers out of Fort Lewis in Washington during the Iraq invasion, during which he did traditional engineer demolition duties. A second deployment was with the 735th Combat Support Company, a Missouri National Guard unit from metropolitan St. Louis.
“It’s now all about route clearance and making sure the routes are safe,” Cook said.
Training for this year’s best sapper competition included learning from past competitions, Cook said.
“I went to sapper school to learn as much as I could,” Cook said. “I did a train-up for approximately three to four months, just using the experience of other people who have attended beforehand and doing the same events, such as marches with specific amounts of weight, land navigation, swimming and events from previous competitions.”
Cook, who said he hopes to make the Army a career and retire at the top enlisted rank of sergeant major, said the Army offers many benefits to those who choose to enlist.
“The Army, regardless of what is going on, they take care of you. It is a stable career move for me at that time. They take care of you with health insurance and all of those worries; they pretty much take you of your back,” Cook said. “You’re doing something not only for yourself and your peers; you are helping your country.”
Registration materials for the event indicate that competitors will be tested in numerous areas. For construction of explosives, sappers must be able to construct and detonate charges ranging from military operations in urban terrain, timber cutting charges, counter-force charges, and steel cutting. A written exam will include inspection of demolition systems for deficiencies and for identification of parts. Each two-member team is expected to know the purpose of and how to tie and inspect all 16 knots in the sapper handbook. A night navigation course will cover more than six miles of terrain; teams will construct a poncho raft, jump out of a helicopter and swim a designated distance. A nonstandard physical fitnees test will include five minutes each of pushups and sit-ups, three minutes of pull-ups and a three-mile run in full body armor plates. A road march will take competitors somewhere between 12 and 20 miles with a predetermined list of items packed, and the next day will have a run for an unspecified distance with “various mystery events enroute.” There will also be tests on assembly and disassembly of weapons, identification of land mine threats, and a “sapper stakes” competition with various engineer-specific tests.
According to Fort Leonard Wood personnel, the Best Sapper Competition Awards/Memorial Service is a combination of two significant events for the U.S. Army Engineer Regiment. The Best Sapper awards ceremony will honor the winners of the Best Sapper Competition teams, which will compete at Fort Leonard Wood from April 20 to 22. Immediately following the presentation of these awards, the U.S. Army Engineer Regiment will honor the 30 fallen engineer soldiers of the past year in a sacred ceremony. This combined event, which is open to the public, will be held at Abrams Theater on April 22 from 6 to 8 p.m.
Other scheduled public events in the Best Sapper competition include:
Monday 4-6 a.m., Training Area 106, Non-standard physical fitness test 7-9 a.m., Training Area 250, Helo-cast and poncho raft swim 9 a.m.–7 p.m., Training Area 221, Urban Challenge
Tuesday Midnight-5 a.m., Road march 8 a.m.-6 p.m., Sapper Stakes
Wednesday 5-7:30 a.m., Run, finish at Gerlach Field
According to Fort Leonard Wood officials, spectators can stop at the Best Sapper operations center inside 1st Engineer Brigade Headquarters, which is located on the corner of Iowa and 12th Street, to pick up a competition packet and check on each team’s progress. Transportation to event sites will not be provided.