By Melissa Buckley, Fort Leonard Wood Public Affairs Office

FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. (April 18, 2024) — It’s about to go down — competitors vying for the Best Sapper title have arrived on Fort Leonard Wood and are ready for their first event at 5 p.m. April 19 in Waynesville’s Roubidoux Park.

The 17th Lt. Gen. Robert B. Flowers Best Sapper Competition runs through April 22, and showcases many of the capabilities of the Army’s combat engineers.

One-hundred Soldiers, in 50 teams of two, will complete a series of tasks, including special steel cutting, mountaineering, a wire obstacle breach, marksmanship, timber cutting techniques, bridge reconnaissance, utilizing handheld mine detectors and a Bangalore breach.

“Thank you all for coming here, for raising your hands and wanting to be Best Sappers. I look forward to seeing you out on the road this week. Best of luck to all of you,” said U.S. Army Engineer School Regimental Command Sgt. Maj. Zachary Plummer, while speaking to the competitors April 17 in the physical training pit outside the Sapper Leader Course Headquarters building.

Last year, competitors covered 60 miles in 58 hours with little to no sleep.

Two of those competitors — and the winners of the 2023 Best Sapper Competition — Capts. Matthew Cushing and Joseph Palazini, from the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, are back to defend their title.

Cushing, a company commander with the 21st Brigade Engineer Battalion, 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, said Best Sapper is a title that comes with great responsibility.

“I command troops. I have to show them what a Best Sapper looks like, how to become one and how we never stop trying to improve ourselves. That is the biggest reason I am back this year, to try to inspire more Best Sappers.”

According to Palazini, also a company commander in the same unit, over the past year, they were both deployed to different places for several months, so most of their training has been done separately.

“We were only able to train together for about a week,” Palazini said. “We studied the Sapper handbook and everything combat engineer related we could. We are trying to be prepared for anything and everything they will throw at us.”

Cushing said he is most looking forward to the Sapper Stakes portion of the competition.

“Last year was fantastic. I enjoy going to ranges, getting smoked and shooting all day,” Cushing said.

Palazini said the Sapper Leader Course instructors consistently put together a world-class event, and he is impressed by the competitor list this year.

“The Sapper schoolhouse has done a good job of representing a lot of different battalions. I think this is important to the engineer community as a whole,” Palazini said. “I encourage every organization to send their best team each year to showcase what they got. That is what builds the Engineer Regiment.”

The team is motivated and ready for the competition to get started. They both said they enjoyed the first event being off post last year and look forward to experiencing the same excitement this year.

“We feel a lot of support from Fort Leonard Wood’s surrounding communities, such as St. Robert and Waynesville, and we look forward to bringing the community together to show them what Army engineers are capable of,” Palazini said.

According to Cushing, hearing the crowd in Roubidoux Park cheer them on motivates him to be all he can be.

“At the end of the day, it is going to suck — but their voices of encouragement drives me to want to be better, faster, stronger,” Cushing said.

According to Best Sapper organizers, some of the events from April 20 to 22 are also spectator friendly. To find out which events are open to viewing, visit the 1st Engineer Brigade’s staff duty for the day’s schedule. The 1st Eng. Bde. is located in Bldg. 11410 off Big Piney Road.

Spectator guidance and team standings are scheduled to be posted daily at

Photos from the competition will be available at

The winners of the 2024 Best Sapper Competition will be announced at 10 a.m. April 23 in Nutter Field House during the closing ceremony.

Sapper Leader Course cadre member, Sgt. 1st Class Ethan Pratt, checks Best Sapper competitors’ accoutrements during gear inspections April 17 in the physical training pit outside the Sapper Leader Course Headquarters building. (Photo Credit: Photo by Melissa Buckley, Fort Leonard Wood Public Affairs Office)













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.