Two combat engineers from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, beat 49 other two-man teams Thursday to place first in the Army's 2017 Best Sapper Competition.

First Lt. Luke Groom and Staff Sgt. Carlos Jimenez are assigned to A Company, 307th Airborne Engineer Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division. This is the fourth year in a row two soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division have been named Best Sappers.

Both soldiers were first-time participants in the three-day competition at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.

In second place were Capt. John Baer and 2nd Lt. Hunter Firebaugh from 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division.  

Capt. Mike Ecklund and Sgt. Arich Erdeski, from 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, came in third.

The competition spanned more than 50 miles over 50 hours and included a ruck march, exam, team-building events, strength and endurance events, technical events, land navigation, and an X-Mile Run. Competitors must be serving in the engineer career field, and at least one of the team members must be a graduate of the Sapper Leader Course.

Groom and Jimenez told Army Times they were both ecstatic to find out they won.

"I'm very proud of myself and my partner," Jimenez said. "Obviously, we couldn't have done it without each other, or without our friends and family."

First Lt. Luke Groom was part of the two-man team that placed first in the Best Sapper Competition at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.

Photo Credit: Army

Their unit was also very supportive, Groom said. 

"In the months leading up to the competition, they gave us the time and resources to get ready for it," he said.

Jimenez said the best part was being mentally and physically strong leading up to the event, but it was still a challenge.

"One of the most negative parts we had was the amount of miles under our feet," he said, adding that the rainy weather didn't help.

"It poured on us," he said. "And we got three hours of sleep over 50 hours."

Staff Sgt. Carlos Jimenez said the wet weather proved challenging during the competition.

Photo Credit: Army

Groom said it was difficult not knowing what was coming next. For example, the land navigation component began right after the ruck march, which they weren't expecting.

"You don't really know how to allocate your energy," he said. "So we do the best we can as long as we can."

Charlsy Panzino covers the Guard and Reserve, training, technology, operations and features for Army Times and Air Force Times. Email her at  

Charlsy is a Reporter and Engagement Manager for Military Times. Email her at

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