Sapper operations in the U.S. Army date all the way back to the American Revolution—General Washington specifically praised the siege works erected by his Chief of Engineers at the Battle of Yorktown—but a badge to recognize this highly demanding military profession was not established by the Army until June, 2004. What it lacked in timeliness, however, it made up for in terms of honor: The Sapper Badge is one of just four permanent, individual skill tabs authorized for wear.

A simplistic way of viewing the goal of a Sapper’s duties is the destruction of enemy battlefield infrastructure and the construction of friendly infrastructure. Derived from an old French word for shovel or spade, “sapping” originally referred to the digging of incrementally closer siege lines so that heavy weaponry could be brought to bear against a walled, fortified position.

The requirement to earn the Sapper Badge is simple but not easy: Graduate from the Sapper Leaders Course (SLC) taught at the U.S. Army Engineer School at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Soldiers seeking to attend the course (it is voluntary) may come from non-Engineering-oriented specialties, but preference is given to officers in CMF 12 (Engineering) and enlisted Soldiers in the Infantry (11A and 11B), Special Forces (18C), and Armor (19D) Branches.

Designed to teach candidates how to become part of a combined-arms team, the SLC consists of two 14-day phases, with the initial leg of training covering general topics such as day and night navigation, demolitions and explosive ordnance, and battlefield first-aid. In Phase Two, the emphasis is on cultivating leadership capabilities, as Sapper candidates learn how to carry out essential frontline operations such as ambushes and raids, reconnaissance missions, base patrols, and urban warfare.

More than half of Phase Two is spent in full-blown exercises, one a three-day Situational Training Exercise (STX) followed by a five-day Field Training Exercise (FTX). Throughout the course, different students are assigned to leadership roles at least two times and their performance in those positions is evaluated.

About four out of ten candidates who start the Sapper Leadership Course before completing all 28 days of training. The course awards points for the tasks and tests candidates perform throughout training, with a minimum score of 700 required to earn the Sapper Tab.
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