2 Army Engineers Prepare to Compete as 1st All-Female Team in Best Sapper Competition

Two soldiers ruck march together on Fort Carson, Colorado.
FILE - Two competitors ruck march together during the Fort Carson Best Ranger Competition and Best Sapper Competition, on Dec. 11, 2019, Fort Carson, Colorado. ( Kelsey Simmons/U.S. Army)

In late March, two Army officers will become the first-all female team to compete in a grueling competition to select the best sappers from the entire service.

Capt. Hilary Thomas and 1st Lt. Alyvia Orsini will make up one of the 50 teams scheduled to compete in the 14th Best Sapper Competition, which will be held March 30 through April 1 at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, according to a recent Army news release.

Thomas and Orsini are both engineers assigned to the 21st Engineer Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

Spectators are invited to watch as sappers cover more than 50 miles in 50 hours in the rugged Ozark Mountains during the exhausting competition, all while carrying rucksacks that weigh more than 80 pounds, according to the release.

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More and more, female soldiers are taking on challenges such as Ranger School and other formerly male-only schools and events since former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta lifted a ban on women serving in direct combat roles in 2013.

Military.com reached out to the 101st to speak with Thomas and Orsini, but both have declined interviews to avoid being put in the spotlight, according to Lt. Col. Charles Barrett, spokesman for the 101st Airborne.

"Capt. Hilary Thomas and 1st Lt. Alyvia Orsini are currently focused on training for the Best Sapper competition, which is obviously very challenging and requires an immense amount of preparation," Barrett said in an email statement. "Out of respect for their training schedule, and to enable their success, we are not facilitating media engagements with them at this time."

The competition is designed to push teams to their mental and physical breaking point, forcing them to demonstrate their expertise on limited amounts of sleep, according to the release.

Competitors will have to complete a series of combat engineer tasks, demolition and land navigation, in addition to challenges such as jumping out of a hovering helicopter into a lake, the release states.

"It's definitely a gut check," Sgt. 1st Class Robert Moore, a Sapper Leader Course instructor who competed in 2015, said in a previous Army release about the competition. "It was tough. The soldiers who make it through definitely don't have any quit in them whatsoever."

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at matthew.cox@military.com.

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