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    Excellence, readiness define Michigan’s “Sapper” Soldiers

    Northern Strike 16

    Photo By Capt. Cammy Alberts | Soldiers from the 4th Platoon, 1431 Engineering Company (Sapper) Battalion out of...... read more read more



    Story by 1st Lt. Andrew Layton 

    Michigan National Guard

    LANSING, Mich. – “Historically, Michigan has been an engineer state.”

    U.S. Army Maj. Peter Newman, force manager for the Michigan National Guard, is explaining his organization’s rich heritage of combat engineering capability.

    “We had the 38th Infantry Division Engineering Brigade based in Flint; we had three engineer battalions and several engineering companies,” he says.

    While a 2007 force restructuring changed that picture, eliminating approximately 850 engineering billets across the state, two “Sapper” companies remain in the Michigan National Guard – the 1431st Engineer Company, based in the Upper Peninsula city of Calumet, and the 1433rd Engineer Company, based at Fort Custer Training Center in Battle Creek.

    “Sapper” is a term derived from the French word "sapeur," which means “to undermine, to dig under a wall or building to cause its collapse.” Today, “Sapper” Soldiers in the U.S. Army have the capability and mission to perform a variety of military engineering duties, such as breaching fortifications, demolitions, bridge-building, preparing field defenses, as well as road and airfield repair.

    These capabilities make Sapper Soldiers a critical asset to maneuver units in deployed settings.

    “Our value comes in providing readily deployable Soldiers,” says Newman. “Making sure we have soldiers that are prepared to deploy, in the right positions when they’re called upon – that is how our success is measured.”

    The administration of the key metric systems that track unit readiness – including the U.S. Army Unit Assessment Tool (UAT), and the U.S. Army Force Structure Decision Support Tool (FSDST) – is Newman’s specialty.

    The data reveals a remarkable secret about Michigan’s two Sapper companies: when measured against other National Guard Sapper units nationwide, their record over the past twelve months makes them two of the most successful units of their kind across the fifty U.S. states, three territories and the District of Columbia.

    The Army Unit Assessment Tool tracks deployment readiness over a five year period, so understanding a unit’s ranking is a complex process that can be impacted by a number of factors. Newman says looking at a unit’s performance over the past twelve months offers a more up-to-date picture of the organization’s real-time climate and trajectory.

    Based on this model, the 1433rd Eng. Co. is currently ranked third, while the 1431st Eng. Co. ranks fourth out of 27 Sapper units in the U.S. National Guard.

    Even more remarkable is the fact that as recently as October 2018, the 1431st Eng. Co. was ranked 24th, using the same metrics.

    “What it shows is for the last year, these two units have performed with almost unprecedented success – better than nearly all of their counterparts across the nation,” says Newman.

    According to U.S. Army Lt. Col. Lucas Lanczy, 107th Engineer Battalion commander, Michigan National Guard, the driving force behind the 1431st Eng. Co.’s renaissance is a command climate that has placed an increased emphasis on the optimization of resources, quality training, and recruiting best-practices.

    “Between the recruiting effort and the command teams we’ve had at the 1431st, morale and unit integrity is outstanding,” he says. “As far as retention goes, the attrition-loss rate is now in the single digits and our current manning is more than 100%.”

    Lanczy says the 1431st Eng. Co., originally established within the Michigan National Guard in 1881, has always enjoyed strong community support. However, the unit’s recruiting figures have skyrocketed thanks to a series of “meet the guard” events, which cater to Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps cadets and high school students.

    “Local high schools will bus their students to the armory – that’s where we have Sappers with all their equipment, showing students the skills they have,” says Lanczy. “The students see the equipment that the Guard has, the camaraderie, and the quality of the Soldiers that are a part of the organization, and they want to be a part of it – it’s a good recipe to bring people into the unit.”

    The 1433rd Eng. Co. – based at Fort Custer in Battle Creek, with central proximity to the major cities of Grand Rapids and Detroit – also enjoys traditionally strong recruiting numbers, along with convenient training opportunities for Soldiers at the 7,500-acre facility.

    “The 1433rd is located at a premier training facility, Fort Custer, that enables the unit to execute a full range of training, even on drill weekends,” said U.S. Army Capt. Barry Beranek, 1433rd Eng. Co. commander. “As a commander, any training scenario I can think of can be executed at Fort Custer – we can literally walk out our back door and conduct full-spectrum operations, including a demolition training exercise.”

    Beranek also credits an innovative professional development program, which allows Soldiers to rotate for duty on a temporary basis at the 507th Engineer Battalion headquarters in nearby Kalamazoo, as a driving force toward excellence and motivation within the unit.

    “Soldiers are able to rotate in and out of the battalion headquarters to gain professional development and training opportunities at a different echelon,” says Beranek. “It goes toward a higher understanding for the force, and a healthy, more mature pool of future leaders in both units.”

    Beranek adds that all of these factors contribute to the 1433rd’s present manning of 108%.

    In recent years, both the 1431st Eng. Co. and the 1433rd Eng. Co. have translated these assets into mission-oriented results, serving with distinction under fire in Iraq and Afghanistan. More than 40 Purple Heart medals were awarded to members of the 1431st Eng. Co. in 2009 during a single ten-month deployment to Afghanistan. Beranek says the 1433rd similarly performed more route clearance operations than any other unit in theater while deployed to Afghanistan from 2012 to 2013.

    Both companies have rendered outstanding services in non-combat situations, as well.

    In 2018, massive floods, washouts, mud slides, and sink holes near Houghton, Mich. caused half the city’s streets to be unpassable. The 1431st Eng. Co. diligently worked to complete a series of repairs in the flood-battered city.

    The 1433rd also participated in a deployment to Latvia in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve in 2014.

    These achievements build on an already distinguished lineage for the companies, which dates back to service in Europe during World War I and World War II. Engineers from the 107th Engineer Battalion, of which the 1431st and 1433rd were a part, participated in the D-Day landing at Normandy and were key assets throughout the final phases of combat operations in the European Theater, including the Battle of the Bulge.

    The pedigree of excellence established by both engineer companies is relevant, especially as National Guard Bureau decision makers anticipate the allocation of a new force structure that will convert the 27 National Guard Sapper companies into a total of 18 combat engineering companies, distributed nationwide.

    According to Newman, based on the quantifiable success of Michigan’s two Sapper units as number three and number four in the nation over the last twelve months, placing two of the newly structured companies in Michigan makes perfect sense.

    “What the Michigan National Guard is aiming for is to replace both of those units with a Combat Engineer Company – Infantry,” he says. “We’ve postured ourselves strength-wise to support it, we have the facilities that can support it, and we have the equipment to make it happen.”

    “Both units could assume this new mission tomorrow and have almost everything in place for immediate success.”

    For Michigan Sapper Soldiers, proof of the poise and determination they will pour into any future assignment can be found in the 107th Engineer Battalion’s organizational motto.

    “Our mantra is ‘good as done,’” says Lanczy. “As combat engineers, we carry that spirit wherever we go.”



    Date Taken: 02.20.2020
    Date Posted: 02.20.2020 16:04
    Story ID: 363540
    Location: LANSING, MI, US 
    Hometown: BATTLE CREEK, MI, US
    Hometown: CALUMET, MI, US

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