Story by Master Sgt. David Eichaker
Michigan National Guard
AUGUSTA, Mich.— Michigan National Guard Sapper Soldiers formed up at Fort Custer Training Center on Sept. 10 in order to participate in unit training, to include conducting a diagnostic Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT), which is designed to connect fitness with combat readiness for all Soldiers. Since the effects of COVID-19 took hold in the United States, the Michigan National Guard’s priority has been to protect Michigan Guard Soldiers, Airmen, and their families while maintaining unit readiness and continued support to State and federal missions. “Soldiers are briefed on COVID-19 mitigation practices which is in our training plan,” said U.S. Army 1st Sgt. Michael Rosier, 1433rd Engineer Company, 507th Engineer Battalion, Michigan Army National Guard. “These include keeping socially distanced and keeping yourself clean by washing your hands.” “Our medics also conduct daily temperature checks of our Soldiers and prior to training, our Soldiers filled out the COVID-19 screening questionnaire.”Even during the ACFT, precautionary measures were taken.“We added wash stations to the training lanes and continue washing of hands,” he said. Sappers are combat engineers or other personnel who support the front-line infantry and have fought in every war in American history. Sappers may perform any of a variety of combat engineering duties, focusing on reconnaissance, mobility, and counter-mobility. As these Soldiers conduct their primary duties, they also have to conform to the upcoming ACFT, which is slowly being implemented into the Army.“The majority of the troops have not done the ACFT,” said U.S. Army Capt. Nick Roman, commander, 1433rd Engineer Company, 507th Engineer Battalion, Michigan Army National Guard. “This is a diagnostic ACFT, which is part of a bigger event called Sapper Stakes, where all of our squads and platoons are tested on their Sapper tasks.” “Although most Soldiers have not taken the new upcoming fitness test, we have graders who have been trained in the ACFT,” he said. A Michigan Soldier who has been in the Guard for over four years is no stranger to the ACFT. “This is my first time taking the ACFT with this unit but have done it in the past with previous units,” said U.S. Army Sgt. Candice Hollis, 1433rd Engineer Company, 507th Battalion, Michigan Army National Guard. “This is our first time we have been together to do all these events as a unit.”She also reflects on the significance of the new standard.“I think it’s a much-needed change in the Army,” said Hollis. “Today is definitely an-eye opener for Soldiers to understand what skills they need to work on—it’s a good change.” “This test is absolutely challenging and one of the hardest tests I have taken so far, and I work out on a regular basis,” said Hollis. The original fitness test, called the Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT) has been around for more than 40 years. The fitness test should be based in science and accuracy to predict a Soldier’s ability to fight and win in multi-domain operations. The ACFT does just that while creating new physical challenges.“It’s a lot harder than expected and very challenging,” said U.S. Army Spc. Jacob Nachazel, 1433rd Engineer Company, 507th Battalion, Michigan Army National Guard. “This is great as this really challenges the Soldier as the original fitness test was so easy.” “The sprint, drag, carry event is the hardest as it burns the muscles in your legs,” he said. Others emphasized the same sentiment.“The sprint, drag, carry is the hardest for sure,” said Hollis. “It burns the legs and uses a lot more energy than expected.”Sappers are crucial to missions in the field and have a variety of responsibilities. Such tasks typically include bridge-building, laying or clearing minefields, demolitions, field defenses as well as building, road and airfield construction and repair.“The events will consist of core skills require of Sappers,” said Roman. “Events include demolitions, weapon systems, breaching, land navigation, all that plus more on top of a grueling ruck march.”It’s an all-encompassing event that includes the ACFT,” said Roman. The event also serves other purposes as well.“It’s a tradition in the Sapper engineer community for units to compete against each other,” said Roman. “Once the event is over with, we tally up the scores and pick the top squad.”Unit cohesion is another tangible outcome from this type of event.“It builds a lot of morale within the unit so every squad competes against each other,” said Hollis.“I joined the unit in 2017 and have had the Sapper event every summer going into fall.” Even after the ACFT, the Soldiers will continue to be physically tested. Sappers work the front lines with the infantry and physical and mental requirements are incorporated as part of the competition.“We will leave around 21:00 (9 p.m.) for a 10-11-mile ruck march,” said Hollis. “Along that route there will be different stations that test our knowledge in the Sapper tasks such as first aid, demolitions.” “It brings our weaknesses up-front and out into the open so that we can help each other out and complete this event together while giving us a better idea on what we need to work on so that I can help train Soldiers and mold them a little bit better,” she said.