Story by Patricia Dubiel on 08/23/2019To wear the Sapper tab, a Soldier must be a graduate of the Sapper Leader Course, which is operated by the U.S. Army Engineer School at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. The SLC is a 28-day course that trains joint-service leaders in small unit tactics, leadership skills and tactics required to perform as part of a combined arms team. The course is open to enlisted Soldiers in the grades of E-4 and above, cadets and officers O-3 and below. Students can come from any combat or combat support branch of the service but priority is given to engineer, cavalry and infantry Soldiers.
The course is divided into two phases: Phase one spans 14 days and covers general subjects including medical, land navigation, demolitions, air and water operations, mountaineering,landmines and weapons used by enemy forces; phase two fills the remaining 14 days with basic patrolling techniques and battle drills that emphasize leadership.
The subjects include urban operations, breaching, patrol organization and movement, and reconnaissance, raid and ambush tactics.
It concludes with a three-day situation training exercise and five-day field training exercise. These missions are a 60/40 mix of engineer and infantry missions. Each training event is graded and scored.
To graduate, a sapper must earn 700 out of 1,000 points to wear the Sapper tab.
At Fort Polk, two Soldiers with the 46th Engineer Battalion have earned the Sapper tab (in addition to their previously-earned Ranger tabs), leading the way for others to follow in pursuit of the coveted rocker. They are Spc. Darren Hopes and Sgt. Jaired Brooks, both horizontal construction engineers with the 573rd Engineer Company and 687th Engineer Company, 46th Eng. Bn.
Each had his own challenges and favorite moments during the course.
"The worst part for me was the swim with a poncho raft in tow," said Hopes. "It was long and tiring it took about 35 minutes to complete."
For Brooks, absorbing the abundance of information being thrown at him was the most challenging aspect of Sapper school.
"I had to learn everything quickly, and I don't consider myself a fast learner," he said. "I was extremely slow at grasping things that I had never seen before, like dealing with demolitions and breaching. I struggled with it, but I pushed through."
On the upside, Brooks said his favorite event was the helocast.
"Jumping out of a helicopter and landing in the water was the most fun. It is something I plan on doing again in my life," said Brooks. "It was stellar. There's nothing like hovering 20 feet above the surface of a body of water and then jumping out and splashing right in."
Hopes said he most enjoyed the Aussie Rappel, which is a headfirst jump on a rappel line.
"As scary as it was, it was my favorite part. Going head first off the tower was one of the coolest things I've ever done in my life."
Both Soldiers were motivated to earn their tabs by the same individual Master Sgt. Andrew Messick.
"He was our first sergeant in the 687th and truly motivated us," said Brooks. "He always worked hard behind the scenes to help us out."
Hopes said he encourages anyone to go to Sapper school.
"You learn so much, like ordnances, rappelling and pathfinder skills and you get to blow up a lot of things," said Hopes. "I learned so many more skills at Sapper than I did at Ranger school."
Command Sgt. Major James Mitchell, 46th Eng Bn command sergeant major, said he is proud of these Soldiers' achievements.
"It makes us as an organization very proud, because Sapper school was originally designed for 12 Bravos, which are combat engineers, and both of these gentlemen are horizontal engineers they push dirt for a living," he said. "And they showed enough grit to make it through one of the engineer regiment's toughest courses. We've had many attempt it but did not make it through, but these two did. Specialist Hopes is the first enlisted Soldier to make it through Sapper school during my time here 27 months."
Mitchell said the men are "absolutely inspirational to the other Soldiers in the battalion," adding that such inspiration tends to get passed from one Sapper/Ranger to the next.
"Master Sergeant Andrew Messick, who is also Sapper and Ranger qualified, was the one who inspired these young men to go for it, and now they will likewise inspire many others to follow in their footsteps," he said.
"We have 12 Soldiers going through a robust Sapper training program now, and they have sustained in the program for more than month. There are plenty of reasons to quit, no say, no, I have something better to do,' but all 12 of these Soldiers have stayed. That says something about the quality of Soldiers we have here at the 46th Engineer Battalion."