- Producers eye Capitol Hill for latest reality TV hit
- No selfie awareness: Obama, Biden mug for Instagram as Ukraine implodes
- Putin to Snowden: We don’t collect droves of data on everyone like the U.S.
- Clemson football’s new opponent: Atheists upset with player prayer, Bible study
- Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s re-election launch party will be ‘history in the making,’ brother says
- Louisiana group hits back at Sen. Mary Landrieu campaign ad with ‘Actress Mary’ spot
- Brain surgery victim struggles with Obamacare: ‘It’s scary’
- Pro-Russian forces storm Ukrainian national guard base; 3 killed
- Joe Biden’s first Instagram pic mocked as shill for sunglass ad
- Confederate flag, blackface flaps lead Catholic school to expel 4
Women tough it out as sappers
Elite training school a physical grind
First of two parts
FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — Deep in the woods, mosquitoes whine, flies buzz, and thick brown spiders dart from under one fallen leaf to the next, trying to evade the nearly 100-degree heat.
On her elbows and knees, ArmyCapt. Aston Armstrong crawls to the top of the hill, peers through the brush and spots the objective: an enemy airfield. The blond platoon leader devises a plan for her 33-member team to destroy the airfield by blowing a 20-foot crater in it.
She jogs back to her team and huddles with the platoon sergeant and three squad leaders. The men lean in as she whispers orders: They will have to pass her commands to the rest of the team, who are on watch to avoid ambush.
Leaves crunch under their boots as they creep into position. Sweat drips from their helmets as they set the charges.
“Fire in the hole! Fire in the hole!” Capt. Armstrong yells just before an explosion shoots a cloud of white dust into the air.
The mock-combat mission is a success on Day 24 of the Sapper Leader Course at the Army Engineer School at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., where soldiers who rig explosives, detect mines and set up firing systems come to train and push themselves to their physical and mental limits.
Capt. Armstrong is one of only a few women to undertake the sapper course since the Army in mid-May allowed female soldiers to serve in combat support jobs below the brigade level, placing women closer to the battlefield though still barring them from combat.
Band of brothers and sisters
Nine times each year, the best young combat engineers and soldiers are selected by their commands to attend the 28-day Sapper Leader Course, widely regarded as one of the Army’s toughest schools. Since 1985, 6,246 engineers have graduated from the course, but only about half of the 40 or so students in each class ever graduate.
Many who have completed both sapper and ranger training say sapper is tougher because of the course’s compressed time frame, number of subjects studied and grueling schedule. And there is no separation of the sexes in sapper school: Men and women work, eat, sleep and bathe in the same facilities, though not always at the same time.
Still barred from ranger training, women have attended sapper training since 1999 — and only 47 have graduated the course.
Of 36 engineers taking the course in June, three had dropped out, including one woman.
At 5-foot-4 and 140 pounds, Capt. Armstrong, 26, is a West Point graduate who had considered becoming an orthopedic surgeon before falling in love with the idea of being an Army engineer. She wanted to attend sapper school to prove to herself that she could do exactly what the guys do, and prove that she is a capable leader.
© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
About the Author
Kristina Wong is a national security reporter for The Washington Times, covering defense, foreign policy and intelligence affairs. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Despite Pentagon cuts and eye on Pacific, Air Force implored to save the 'Warthog'
- Pentagon welcomes budget deal but says more defense spending needed
- Rep. Hunter to Pentagon: Don't lower combat standards for women
- Scientists raise alarm over plan to destroy Syria's chemical weapons at sea
- Hagel renews Qatar defense pact despite differences over Iran, Syria
TWT Video Picks
By John R. Bolton
Reality calls for attaching Gaza to Egypt and the West Bank to Jordan
- 'Culture of intimidation' seen in Nevada ranch standoff
- Removal of military gear limits options for U.S., NATO in Ukraine
- IRS emails reveal discussion with Justice about suing nonprofits for election activities
- Rand and Ron Paul ride to the rescue for Bundy in Nevada standoff with feds
- NAPOLITANO: Hope for the dead and freedom for the living
- CURL: The state of the Union worse than you thought
- PETA officials collide with deer
- CNN op-ed claims right-wingers 'more deadly than jihadists'
- BOLTON: A 'three-state solution' for Middle East peace
- U.S. Navy to turn seawater into jet fuel
Celebrity deaths in 2014
Top 10 handguns in the U.S.