FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. (May 25, 2012) — Women are not allowed to serve in certain combat occupations — but that’s not stopping female engineers from taking on the grueling 28-day Sapper Leader Course, becoming Sapper qualified and wearing the coveted Sapper tab.
“I saw it as a great opportunity to prove to myself I could do it,” said Maj. Jennifer Etters, the first female officer Sapper Leader Course graduate in March 2002.
She recalls her schooling in the Sapper Leader Course at Fort Leonard Wood as the hardest thing she has ever done, but is thankful for the demanding training.
“The course taught me a lot about myself and what I could handle physically, mentally and emotionally. I believed it prepared me for some tough situations down the road — especially in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Etters said.
Etters said being the only female in her class was not always easy, but that didn’t change her affection for her profession.
“A few classmates did not want me there, particularly during the patrolling phase,” Etters said. “I love being an Engineer and our motto ‘Let us try.’ I think it’s important for any Soldier that truly has the heart of an Engineer be given the chance to be a Sapper.”
Six years later, Sapper tab recipient Capt. Emily Hannenberg had a contrasting experience in her class containing 32 Sappers — four of them women.
“I was very proud to be part of such an amazing group of strong, confident and determined women. It was great to be there with sisters in arms, and I know that because of our hard work we were able to represent women well to our fellow Sappers,” Hannenberg said.
According to the Sapper Leader Course’s records, the female graduation rate is 35 percent, compared to 52 percent for their male comrades.
“Entry and graduation requirements are the same for female students as they are for male students,” said Sgt. 1st Class Troy Winters, Sapper Leader Course chief instructor. “Our instructors are trained to treat all Soldiers equally.”
Hannenberg said she experienced this as she and her classmates were held to the same high expectations.
“There is absolutely zero difference between the standard for female and male students. Females never once were given a different packing list for a ruck, a slower time standard for a run, or a lighter weapons system during patrolling. In my experience, the Sapper Leader Course did an exceptional job of being gender blind and adhering to unwavering high standards of performance for all candidates,” Hannenberg said.
Although the Sapper Leader Course is designed to be brutal, both Etters and Hannenberg have fond memories of the time they spent on Fort Leonard Wood.
Etters particularly enjoyed her hands-on education at the demolition range.
She enjoyed the challenge of being a Sapper so much that she entered the Best Sapper competition in 2011 with teammate 1st Lt. Robert West.
No Gender but soldier. No Color but service colors. You can either do the job or you can’t. Everyone deserves the opportunity to prove that they can serve their country in whatever capacity they can achieve.