Tuesday, May 25, 2010

TOP STORY > >Austin soldier competes with best

Special to the Leader

FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — Jumping out of the back of a helicopter and into icy water at dawn with 90 pounds of gear for a swim across a pond is not a normal way to start the day.

But for Army Capt. David A. Vasquez it was just a small part of one of the most intense 52 hours of his life.

Vasquez, son of June Morgan of Austin, competed in the three-day best sapper event to determine what two-man team would endure as the Army’s best combat engineers.

Vasquez was part of a team from the 54th Engineer Battalion at Warner Barracks in Germany.

“Winning the competition is a goal that every engineer should strive for.

“This is our chance to prove to the rest of the Army how strong and capable engineers are,” said Vasquez, a 1999 graduate of North Little Rock High School.

He earned his bachelor of science degree in geology from the University of Arkansas in 2006.

Day one kicked off with the 29 teams taking a non-standard physical fitness test consisting of five minutes each of push-ups, pull-ups, chin-ups and a three- mile run.

After the run, the teams competed in a round-robin phase that included knot tying and identification, various weapons assembly, mine identification and manual breaching of obstacles while carrying a mannequin on a stretcher.

Day two started with a rucksack march in the dark. When the sun came up the teams performed a helo cast and poncho-raft swim while pulling their 90 pounds of gear.

When they finished the swim, the teams demonstrated their skills in a set of events for the sapper-stakes phase of the competition.

They had to run an obstacle course, fire various weapons as quickly and accurately as they could, repel 90 feet down the face of a cliff, breach one door with explosives and another with a shotgun, build and detonate field-expedient charges, and conduct room entry and clearance.

A night navigation event through the woods took the teams into the final day of competition.

The teams ended the competition on day three with a close to 10-mile run.

The run had a stake drive, bridge-building, log-cutting and a tire-flipping course that the teams had to complete before busting through a door for the final sprint to the finish line.

Vasquez and his teammate spent a lot of time leading up to best sapper training for whatever challenges they might face.

“We went on several ruck marches and had various training regiments daily to prepare for the competition,” said Vasquez.

For Vasquez, all the training leading up to the competition has prepared him for even what he might think of as the most difficult event.

“The ruck march will probably be the hardest because without knowing the distance it is hard to pace yourself, and the terrain here is pretty rough,” said Vasquez.

Vasquez chose to participate in the grueling best sapper competition to challenge himself and compete against some of the best soldiers in the Army.

“I am here to compete against the best combat engineers in the Army,” said Vasquez.