FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. (April 29, 2022) Capt. Alaimoana Paunga and 1st Lt. Eric Mattia, Team 17 with 20th Engineer Battalion, 36th Engineer Brigade, at Fort Hood, Texas, earned the right to be called ‘Best Sapper’ during the 15th Best Sapper Competition held April 23 through 25 at Fort Leonard Wood. The winners of the 2022 competition were announced during a ceremony held April 26 in Lincoln Hall Auditorium.
Paunga and Mattia competed against 47 other teams throughout the three-day competition, which saw Sappers traveling a total of 64 miles of rugged and rolling Missouri terrain over 54 hours while completing multiple mental and physical challenges with very little sleep.
“I was inspired (as) these competitors gave it all they had, even when their energy was absolutely exhausted, and their bodies were spent,” said Col. Daniel Hibner, U.S. Army Engineer School commandant. “We were testing them mentally and continued to push them physically. And it was their grit and sheer determination that kept them going and produced the winning team.”
Paunga described the winning feeling as “surreal.”
“We came in with the goal to win it all,” Paunga said. “We have former winners in our brigade, so it was definitely a goal of ours. Everything just kind of fell together one event at a time. It feels great to be recognized at the end of it.”
Mattia, who also competed in last year’s competition, agreed.
“We did a good job of segmenting it all. We just stayed focused, and the lanes were awesome,” he said. “We had fun with it, but we kept our eyes ahead.”
The team credited their coaches support and their training regimen, which included training with the other teams from their unit, in helping them bring home the trophy.
Both agreed the competition was tough both mentally and physically.
“Overall, the competition was physically enduring. I think over the course of the three days, I got a total of three hours of sleep,” Paunga said. “There were some times where we thought we couldn’t pull through, but we got over that mental block, finished it and accomplished the mission.”
Coming in second place was Team 16 consisting of 1st Lts. Raymond Hardaway and Jefferson Ryscavage, also with 20th Eng. Bn., 36th Eng. Bde., at Fort Hood.
The third-place winners were Team 34 consisting of Sgt. 1st Class Dustin Shepherd and Staff Sgt. Seth Yoder, 3rd Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group, at Fort Carson, Colorado.
Photos of the competition can be found on the Fort Leonard Wood Flickr page at https://www.flickr.com/photos/fortleonardwood/albums/72177720298277496.
About Fort Leonard Wood
Fort Leonard Wood is a thriving and prosperous installation that has evolved from a small basic training post 80 years ago to a premier Army Center of Excellence that trains nearly 80,000 military and civilians each year.
Fort Leonard Wood is home to the U.S Army Maneuver Support Center of Excellence and three U.S. Army schools: the U.S. Army Engineer School; U.S. Army Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear School; and the U.S. Army Military Police School. In addition to training engineer, CBRN and military police specialties for the Army, Fort Leonard Wood also provides gender-integrated in-processing and Basic Combat Training for new Soldiers.
Fort Leonard Wood also hosts and trains with the largest Marine Corps Detachment and Air Force Squadron on any Army installation as well as a large Navy construction detachment.
More information about Fort Leonard Wood is at: https://home.army.mil/wood/index.php/about/mission