By Sgt. Liane Hatch
3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs Office, 4th Infantry Division
FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — When the winners took the podium at the 2019 Lt. Gen. Robert B. Flowers Best Sapper Competition, two Soldiers from Fort Carson’s 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, stepped forward to accept third place.
Their accomplishments certainly made the division proud, demonstrating the Ivy Division’s readiness and fitness. However, they were not the only 4th Inf. Div. representatives: Sgt. Dylan Ledbetter and 1st Sgt. Joshua Pagan, “Team Nine,” from 588th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Inf. Div., fought for the title as well. While they did not place as top competitors, they learned many lessons along their journey.
After traveling to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, from Camp Buehring, Kuwait, Ledbetter and Pagan had very minimal time to recover, train and make sure they were ready to go.
“With the mission in Kuwait and a busy pre-deployment schedule, we had very little dedicated training time,” said Ledbetter. “We were able to return to Fort Carson approximately 10 days prior to the competition, and we really dedicated ourselves to training during this time. It never seems like enough time, but we think that even this small amount paid off well.”
The teams’s journey began long before Kuwait when Ledbetter, who earned his Sapper Tab in November 2017, began searching for a competition partner. Pagan and Ledbetter met in August while going over ideas for starting a battalion Sapper training program. After a previous teammate quit during a Fort Carson Best Sapper competition, Ledbetter was eager to find a motivated teammate who would not let him down.
“Ledbetter needed a partner and I answered the call,” Pagan said. “Sappers lead the way.”
Pagan, who “earned the right” to wear the Sapper tab in May 2015, said he was eager to compete so he could show other Sappers that senior NCOs “can still keep up.”
For both Ledbetter and Pagan, competing at the national level was a first-time experience, and neither knew entirely what to expect. While the format of the competition is the same as the one Fort Carson hosted, the specific events are not released beforehand. They guessed but didn’t know what they were getting themselves into.
For instance, an unknown-distance ruck march is usually one of the last events, requiring Soldiers to carry 50-55-pound rucksacks without knowing how far they will be traveling. And while some events were intimidating, both Soldiers played on their strengths. Ledbetter was good at demolitions, and Pagan excelled at physical fitness. Both were able to use their strengths, and pushed each other to continue when things got tough.
In addition to the ruck march; over the course of 50 hours, competitors had to take a nonstandard physical fitness test and conduct land navigation.
Ultimately, Ledbetter and Pagan came in 12th place out of 49 competing teams.
“The competitors represented some of the best engineer officers and Soldiers in the regiment,” Pagan said. “Regardless of the place, simply finishing the competition requires a degree of mental toughness and endurance that most people don’t have.”
The two Sappers were happy to place 12th, showing their peers what they were capable of, despite what others might perceive as disadvantages. Pagan wanted to show that senior leaders can still compete with the best; and Ledbetter said, while armored brigades focus heavily on maintaining vehicles, Sapper Soldiers in armored units who put in the time and dedication can hang with — and beat — the light fighters.
Now that they’ve returned to the 3rd ABCTs mission in Kuwait, Ledbetter and Pagan are looking ahead to 2020 instead of looking back to what they could have done differently “If we want to do better next year, we’ve got to start preparing earlier,” Ledbetter said. “Time starts now.”