FORT RICHARDSON, Alaska - Service members, family and friends of the 23rd Engineer Company (Sapper) gathered at the Buckner Physical Fitness Center March 17 to witness the uncasing of the company’s guidon, signifying the completion of its yearlong mission in Afghanistan.
Despite the harsh operating environment, 100-degree temperatures, and enemy threats, the sappers sustained relatively minor injuries, with all soldiers returning home safely, Lt. Col. Marc Hoffmeister, 6th Engineer Battalion commander said.
“They met every mission and, without question, the dangerous work they conducted to keep improvised explosive devices clear of the roads saved many lives, both U.S. and Afghan,” Hoffmeister said in remarks. “We are in awe of what this company achieved over the last year.”
They did so during a critical period in the Afghan conflict, when the Afghan government stood on the brink of securing its control over former Taliban strongholds.
“The Sappers of the 23rd spearheaded coalition advances into Taliban controlled areas once thought impenetrable,” Capt. Ryan Hintz, 23rd Engineer Company commander said in remarks. “They did so with professionalism and bravery; and they earned the respect of every unit they worked alongside. It is a direct reflection of the caliber of Paratroopers and leaders standing before you that they were able to accomplish so much.”
Hintz listed some of the unit’s achievements, including:
- 450 route clearance missions;
- clearing more than 16,000 kilometers of road;
- finding and clearing 54 roadside bombings.
“As a 100-man airborne sapper company, we maintained three route clearance platoons when every company of equal size in the entire theater manned only two,” Hintz said. “All this was accomplished by the men standing before you now. All this was possible because of these men are not average; they are paratroopers, and they are exceptional.”
The Arctic Sappers’ medal count is impressive. They received three combat medic badges, six purple hearts, six Army Commendation Medals for valor, three joint service commendation medals, 16 bronze star medals, 72 combat action and 88 army commendation medals. The company’s guidon now bears a combat action streamer as a result.
Hintz, the 23rd Engineer Company commander, was awarded the Corps of Engineers’ Steel Order of the De Fleury Medal during the deployment for his inspirational leadership.
Hoffmeister praised the unit’s rear detachment and family readiness group for their support on the home front.
“Capt. Cassandra Parks set the standard for success as the rear detachment commander, executing her mission flawlessly and enabling the command team forward to remain focused on their mission at hand,” Hoffmeister said. “The Family Readiness Group, led by Ashley Hintz and Jami Bahmer, set the standard for family care, creating a tight knit, cohesive readiness group that together managed the everyday challenges of the home front during their soldiers deployment and their safe return.”
“Thank you to all the spouses for their command support and dedication,” said Hoffmeister. “Without your support, the 23rd Sappers would never have performed so well.”
“I was deployed to Pakistan for six months while my husband was deployed,” said Spc. Sarah Segarra, medic assigned to the 3rd Maneuver Enhancement Brigade and spouse of Spc. Joel Segarra. “It kept me busy for a little while, but I never stop thinking about my husband. I missed him so much while he was gone, but I have him home now and I plan to spend as much time with him as possible.
The Arctic Sappers are moving steadily through the reintegration and reset process.
"It is evident how the Soldiers have grown together and become part of a much larger team over the last year," 23rd Engineer Company 1st Sgt. Troy Whitcome said. "They have bonded and matured while dealing with the stresses of the deployment. They really relied on each other, and trusted their leaders without question, and came out better because of it."
The 23rd Engineer Company, 6th Engineer Battalion (Airborne), 3rd Maneuver Enhancement Brigade was welcomed home recently from a yearlong deployment at the Buckner Physical Fitness Center, where family and friends greeted them with big hugs, wide smiles and joyful tears.
“It is great to have the company back on the ground and to have the battalion complete for the first time since its activation,” Hoffmeister said.