An Army soldier won the top leadership award at Sapper school, then her husband did too. 

1st Lts. Rachel and Samuel Kicklighter are combat engineer officers stationed at U.S. Army Garrison Bavaria, in Grafenwöhr, Germany but are assigned to different engineer units. Samuel is stationed with the 2nd Cavalry Regiment’s Regimental Engineer Squadron, while Rachel is with the 15th Engineer Battalion.

Both recently went through the Army’s Sapper Leader Course at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, a demanding 28-day course that covers the skills and tactical work of combat engineers. Rachel was given the Sapper Leader Course Distinguished Leadership Award for class 05-24. A month later, Samuel won it for his class, 06-24.

Both were already graduates of Army Ranger school.

Sappers, or combat engineers, are charged with building fortifications, use demolitions, bridge-building, laying or clearing minefields, preparing field defenses, and building roads and airfields.

The couple, who began dating as freshmen at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, told the Army in a release that their mentors at the school pushed them toward the Army Engineer branch. Both soldiers have also completed Airborne and Air Assault training. 

Sappers are also one of only four elite service tabs soldiers can wear on their uniform, including the Special Forces tab, the Ranger tab and the President’s Hundred tab.

The Sapper leadership development course at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri is 28 days long and trains soldiers in troop-leading procedures, conventional and expedient demolitions and mountaineering operations. The course culminates with a field training exercise, reinforcing battle drills and specialized engineer techniques.

In 2022, 17-year-old West Virginia National Guard Pfc. William Farkas was the youngest soldier to receive the Sapper leadership award.

Rachel will participate alongside her West Point classmate, 1st Lt. Lexi West, at the Best Sapper Competition on April 19 in Roubidoux Park in Waynesville, Missouri. 

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The two began training for the competition with a rigorous marathon-style regimen with full-body workouts, a combination of rucking and running in boots for 10 to 18 miles, she told the Army in a release. 

“Our preparation has been challenging, and when people ask if we are confident for the competition, we often jokingly respond that we are confident in our ability to not quit,” Rachel told the Army in a release. 

Rachel, however, also hopes to eventually compete for Best Sapper alongside her husband. 

“We would love to compete together, but the competition is very unit driven,” Samuel told the Army. “If the schoolhouse makes an exception at any point, or if we are ever in the same unit, you will see the Kicklighter team.”

The three-day competition originally began in 2005 and is open to two-person teams. The competition includes nine exercises which soldiers will complete as a team while carrying a 40-pound cratering charge canister without touching the ground. It includes 50 front squats, nine burpees, 50 hex bar deadlifts, seven log cradles, 10 cratering can get ups, 50m walking lunges, 50 thrusters, a 200m carry and three-mile run without the canister. 

In November, 2023, Samuel completed his compass validation for land navigation tests to receive his Expert Infantryman Badge, Expert Soldier Badge and Expert Field Medical Badge also called “E3B” at Vilseck, Germany. E3B tests candidates’ physical and mental abilities while executing individual tasks, according to the Army.

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