Leading the way: OSUT Soldier excels at Sapper Leader Course

Brian Hill
Fort Leonard Wood

During a graduation ceremony April 9 at Lincoln Hall Auditorium, Pfc. Mitchel Haber, a 24-year-old National Guard combat engineer Soldier from Pocatello, Idaho, became the first success story of a new pilot program at the Sapper Leader Course that allows junior enlisted Soldiers the opportunity to demonstrate leadership qualities to officers and noncommissioned officers with years of Army experience.

Not only did he graduate, he also made the Commandant’s List in the process, which signifies he finished among the top 20 percent in his class.

According to Sapper Training Company 1st Sgt. Timothy Shay, the new program at Fort Leonard Wood brings combat engineer Soldiers — commonly referred to by their Military Occupational Specialty: 12 Bravo — straight from OSUT to the Sapper Leader Course.

“We were trying to find a way to invigorate the enlisted force to attend the course,” Shay said. “The 12 Bravo OSUT program is evolving and they’re putting out better Soldiers now than they were 10 years ago. So, our thinking was, ‘Let’s take your best 12 Bravo OSUT Soldiers and challenge them at the Army Engineer School’s premier leadership academy and see how they do.’”

The selection process for OSUT candidates is “rigorous,” Shay said.

“We didn’t want to bend the standards for anybody,” he added. “We’re looking for a 550 (Army Combat Fitness Test) score with a faster than 15-minute two-mile time. They have to pass a 12-mile road march in under three hours, and they also have to do a land-navigation course.”

Shay called the program a win-win for the Army.

“Even the ones who don’t graduate the course are still better 12 Bravo Soldiers today than they were at (OSUT) graduation day,” he said. “But, if they show up at their first units with a Sapper tab on their shoulder, that might motivate some of those others who might have been thinking about coming, but weren’t really sure whether or not they can do it.”

Haber was one of just five candidates chosen from his training company to move over to the Sapper Training Company barracks after graduation.

Halfway into the 28-day course — at the start of Phase Two — Haber was the last OSUT Soldier left.

“It’s fast paced,” Haber said about the course. “A lot of people say it’s a baptism by fire. There’s a lot of knowledge thrown at you and you are not only performing at a very high physical fitness level, but you get put into classes for extended periods of time. When you’re tired, it’s very hard to pay attention or take notes. It’s a lot of mental. It’s very hard to stay focused and motivated — that’s the biggest test for a lot of people.”

The most important part of success in the course is forming a strong team, Haber said.

“I was really nervous to come here,” he said. “Being a private and working with officers and NCOs, I didn’t know how they would receive me. But within the first 24 to 48 hours, we were already helping each other out.”

Haber called the course “the best-worst experience” of his life.

“It was the best experience in that I got to mesh with officers and Soldiers who have a good amount of experience in the Army,” he said. “Working together with those teams was awesome, but it was very challenging. There are multiple times each day when you want to quit — where you just think about the easy way out or feel sorry for yourself — but you need to have that mental fortitude and grit to push on. That’s where I would say it was rough; it was hard, but it was the best experience. It’s been one of the highlights of my life so far.”

One of the course instructors, Staff Sgt. Joshua Newberry, said Haber demonstrated leadership qualities beyond his rank.

“In those stressful situations, he was able to comfortably take charge and utilize his team,” Newberry said. “That’s something most privates aren’t accustomed to doing.”

Shay called it a testament to the training programs of the 1st Engineer Brigade “and the professionalism of their cadre and drill sergeants.”

Summing up the experience, Haber said it was rewarding to learn he can always “do a little bit more.”

“When you hear stories from other Sappers who have gone through this course, it seems almost impossible,” he said. “Once you’re there in the moment, though, you learn that your body and mind are far more capable than you thought.”

Shay said the SLC is taught here 10 to 12 times each year, and is designed to forge engineer Soldiers into Sapper leaders. The Sappers who graduate become experts in engineer-specific tasks, infantry skills, mountaineering, airborne and air- assault operations. Leader roles are rotated, and each student is evaluated on leadership.

Capt. Jacob Davel (right), Sapper Training Company commander, affixes a Sapper tab to the sleeve of Pfc. Mitchel Haber during a Sapper Leader Course graduation Friday at Lincoln Hall Auditorium. Haber is the first Soldier to graduate the course after coming straight out of One Station Unit Training here. Not only did Haber graduate, he also made the Commandant's List, signifying he scored among the top 20 percent in his class. Photo by Brian Hill