Sunday, June 10, 2012

Sapper Leader Course

[Originally posted in 2007]

Well, some of you keep asking what Sapper School was like.

The course emphasizes the following: demolitions, mountaineering, aerial operations, land navigation, waterborne operations, urban breaching, (military operations in urban terrain) MOUT, threat weapons, combatives and troop leading procedures & combat orders.

Demolitions was fun. We constructed cratering charges, door breaching charges, made napalm, used ammonium nitrate to make satchel charges, expedient claymores, and all kinds of interesting explosives. Napalm started some nice little fires, but it burned out.

Mountaineering was fairly rugged. We did all sorts of rappels, including the ordinary hollywood and equipment rappels. I then had to buddy rappel with a 200lb guy strapped my back, and also did the Aussie rappel, where you descend down the ropes face first, which usually means upside down.

For aerial operations, we were limited to using the CH-47 Chinook, which I had not flown on before. The Chinook is the big helicopter with two main blades on the front and back. Anyways, we flew around in them and did helocasting into the water. Helocasting involves jumping out of the aircraft, into the water. It was fun, moving at 10 knots around 15 ft over the water, so it wasn't too far up, but far enough up, that a soldier that was airborne (paratrooper) qualified refused to jump. What a wimp. We jumped a couple of times and had to swim however far you landed in the water back to shore pulling your rucksack (hopefully waterproofed) to the shore so that the Sapper instructors could smoke you some more.

Land navigation was the usual. It is six hours long, with three at night and three during daylight. Me and my partner, West Point '06 classmate, Dennis Hines, did fairly well. We did make a mistake, however, and decided to go for our 6th point with only 50 minutes left. We already had found five points and you needed only four to pass the course. Anyways, we went up the side of one of the worst mountains I have ever climbed. Of course we had our rifles and packs weighing I don't now how much, and the side of the mountain was overgrown with little saplings that snagged on my gear, making forward motion pretty much impossible. After much toil and groaning, we made it to the top, and found we had lost the map. Miraculously, I found it a few minutes later, and as we were running back down a trail, I stepped funny and hear some strange pops and snapping in my leg, and found I had sprained my ankle. I was fairly surprised as I have run in snow and ice on rocks in the hills up in New York with no ill effects, but anyways, we barely made it back in time. My ankle still is not quite fixed 6 weeks later, but I feel God helped me make it through the rest of Sapper school, carrying over 100 lbs of gear sometimes.

The last two weeks, we were out in the field, doing patrols and missions that were normally ambushes, raids or reconnaissance. Of course we were sleep deprived and starved a little. More than a few lost 15-20 lbs in those two weeks. If everything went well, we usually got 1 MRE a day, so I didn't think it was all that bad. The sleep deprivation was kind of funny. Guys would fall asleep marching down the trail, and would tumble into a tree or ditch frequently. I took a nap a couple of times as we were marching. When pulling security in our patrol bases, it got so bad that they let us stand up so that we could stay awake. Didn't help me much, though. I got quite good at sleeping standing up and was always somersaulting over my machine gun, or whatever bushes happened to be around. One time when the patrol leader at the time was briefing the key leaders, I was holding up the map so that he could use it to brief off of. I fell asleep three times and dropped the map in the middle of the briefing. Some guys suffered pretty bad. One guy tried to call in Santa Claus over the radio, people saw buildings and people that didn't exist in the middle of the woods.

One neat thing was they starved us for a couple of days and brought us back into the base camp. At the base camp they had a couple dozen rabbits and chickens. A buddy of mine and I managed to chase down the biggest chicken and killed it promptly. After taking a quick break to watch it run around with no head, we took it apart and ate it. It was kind of tough, and we ended up eating mainly some rice and potatoes they gave us, but never before had a live animal looked so delicious.

I was one of the 28 of the original 45(?) sapper candidates that completed the course. I was thankful to have made it, but frustrated that I hadn't earned the Sapper tab. I had earned all the points I needed to pass the course, but on a dark night towards the end of the course, as I was leading my patrol in a patrol base for the night, one of our guys fell asleep in the woods and my subordinates failed to account for him. Myself and my assistant patrol leader, a Ranger who was going to be the honor graduate, failed our patrol and didn't earn our tabs. The Sapper instructors later told me that it was really not my fault as patrol leader, but even so, since I was in charge, I bore responsibility for my subordinates actions. All in all, it was a great learning experience, and I hope to go back as soon as I can for more excitement.

The last thing that happened was on the morning of graduation. We had to go down to our combatives area around 3 a.m., and do our final combatives drill. Some of our instructors do cage fighting/ultimate fighting competitions, and I got hit pretty hard in the head multiple times by an instructor that I had kicked in the face one night as he tried to tie me up for sleeping standing up. Anyways, he got in quite a few good punches in on me before I managed to get him in a clinch to subdue the rascal. Too bad we couldn't hit back.

Sapper school is a pretty cool school to go to. As the 'engineer ranger school' it is pretty rigorous. Learned a lot, nobody died, starved to death, or went too crazy, so I count it as a success.


Joshua Velazquez said...

Excelent post! Congrats my Bro.on a job well done. GO ARMY!

Kelly S said...
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Saint said...

Hey im getting ready to go to sapper school and i was wondering if u had any halpful suggestions on how to prepare myself to graduate..anything would be helpful my e-mail is