Engineer Soldiers compete for top, acquire new skills

Engineer Soldiers compete for top, acquire new skills

Soldiers from the 253rd Engineer Battalion measure the curvature of a road during the unit’s “Engineer Challenge.” The first of its kind set up within this brigade, Soldiers were tested on basic warrior tasks, as well as combat engineer skills, as a part of their annual training at Florence Military Reservation, June 19-20.

FLORENCE, Arizona - When focusing on basic warrior tasks during annual training, the seemingly endless “death-by-PowerPoint” classes and simulated exercises can be mundane and drawn-out. The Soldiers from the 253rd Engineer Battalion, Arizona Army National Guard, decided to switch it up during this year’s annual training and hold a motivating competition.

More than 100 Soldiers from the engineer unit participated in their first-ever “Engineer Challenge” June 19 to 20, at the Florence Military Reservation. Soldiers were put to the test on basic warrior tasks and some basic combat engineer skills as well.


“During this two-day event, Soldiers challenged themselves on basic warrior skills and some engineer tasks, which may not have been in the original framework of their own jobs,” said Maj. Gretchen Bolerjack, the executive officer for the 253rd Engineer Battalion. “It was designed so our Soldiers from the construction, logistics and combat engineer companies can cross-level and cover down, so in a live situation there is always equal cover of tasks – plus, having the variety combined like this allows for all to compete across the board.”

This cross-training was unlike other unit’s, as the job of an engineer versus a logistician are distinct, the competition took all Soldiers out of their comfort zones and gave them the necessary skills to be assigned to an engineer unit.


“Reconnaissance operations is primarily a combat engineer tasking, but we wanted to integrate our other Soldiers into this skill set in order to expand the utility of the battalion as a whole,” said Staff Sgt. Nicholas Papke, a reconnaissance noncommissioned officer for headquarters-headquarters company. “If everybody can do the essential skills needed, for example, if we are short people, we can rely on others within the battalion to assist with engineer tasks.”

Soldiers were not just thrown into the cross-leveling, said 2nd Lt. Patrick Locke, an operations officer, and the officer-in-charge of this event, and several days of training were involved in preparation for the challenge.


“Some of the Soldiers are not completely trained on engineer skills, and so we provided some courses prior to the competition so everyone can compete,” Locke said. “This type of training will definitely put the battalion at an advantage in future missions.”

The Engineer Challenge event provided an opportunity to sharpen skills, train on new ones, and find weak spots requiring more training in the future.

“One of the more challenging parts for the Soldiers was the preventative maintenance checks and services skills, which is a basic vehicle maintenance skill that all Soldiers should know how to do,” Bolerjack said. “Many of the Soldiers were realizing that they had forgotten some steps or were unsure how to perform a certain task, so this helps leadership gauge where additional training is needed.”

When envisioning a combat engineer calculating bridge width or determining the grade of a hill, some may think high-tech devices are involved in the process. To the contrary, a pen, piece of paper, Pythagoreans Theorem, and a compass and tape measure is all that is needed, according to Papke.


“The methods we use for any recon is pretty basic – we use tape measures, our feet, our eyeballs – because we can apply techniques to measure a hill using formulas, and a pace count for a quick and quite accurate method,” Papke said. “Certainly, a cell phone with a little accelerometer, or a device to track the angle of something can be great as well, but while deployed, most likely a cell phone will not be handy and we cannot always count on digital equipment to be accurate or work properly – all you need are some basic tools and your brain.”

At the end of the competition of more than 5 miles of competitive lanes, while enduring the hot, arid Sonoran climate, the Soldiers earned their bounty. The Soldier with the top score in individual warrior tasks is awarded an Army Achievement Medal, and the top team for engineer skills all receive certificates of achievement, battalion coins, and a mounted certificate at the battalion headquarters as a commencement for future engineer challenges.


“After the planning involved with designing this competition, the success or failure of those efforts are tested when Soldiers begin the event,” Bolerjack said. “I feel this was highly successful, and was a testament of how the Soldiers within the battalion have that esprit de corps. This will be a future tradition now with this battalion based on how well this event really went.”