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    Soldier couple earns back-to-back Sapper school leadership awards, wife to compete in Best Sapper

    By Army Mil,


    FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — Just a few years into their marriage and their Army careers, 1st Lts. Rachel and Samuel Kicklighter have completed some of the Army’s toughest challenges, including Airborne, Air Assault and Ranger schools.

    Being Army Engineer officers — Samuel, originally from Brevard, North Carolina, is stationed with the 2nd Cavalry Regiment’s Regimental Engineer Squadron, and Rachel, from Tucson, Arizona, is with the 15th Engineer Battalion, both units at U.S. Army Garrison Bavaria, in Grafenwöhr, Germany — they next decided to add the Sapper Leader Course to their list of accomplishments. When class 05-24 graduated earlier this year, Rachel was the Distinguished Leadership Award recipient, and when class 06-24 graduated a few weeks later, Samuel received the Distinguished Leadership Award.

    With the 17th Lt. Gen. Robert B. Flowers Best Sapper Competition set to kick off in a little more than a week, Rachel is hoping to add another title to the list of Kicklighter accomplishments — she will return to Fort Leonard Wood from Germany to represent her unit in the competition alongside one of her West Point classmates, 1st Lt. Lexi West. The Best Sapper Competition challenges and tests service members' knowledge, physical prowess and mental fortitude over three days, and Rachel said she and her teammate are “excited to compete.”

    “Our mutual interest in participating in this event started over a year ago, and the timing this year was ideal, as we both finished our platoon leader time and had the ability to focus on preparing for the competition,” Rachel said. “I admire Lexi for her exceptional physical fitness, discipline and resilience, qualities that I believe are essential for success in the train up and during the competition.”

    To prepare, Rachel said she and her partner “conducted a rigorous training regimen similar to preparation for a marathon.”

    “The mileage included a combination of rucking, running and running in boots, ensuring we incorporated a weekly long run, spanning between 10 to 18 miles,” she said.

    To complement the endurance training, Rachel said the team engaged in full-body workouts, focusing on exercises such as lunges, overhead presses, deadlifts and step-ups to enhance overall strength.

    “Once the (physical training) test standards were released, we used a 40-pound cratering charge training aid to practice the PT test,” she added. “Our overarching objective was to optimize our endurance by prioritizing time on our feet while concurrently building comprehensive functional fitness. In addition to our physical preparations, we actively sought knowledge and guidance from subject matter experts within our battalion and brigade to study the engineering and soldier tasks. We leveraged insights from peers who have competed in recent years, and we collaborated with units across Grafenwöhr to attend as many ranges as we could.”

    While the team is fully aware Best Sapper “will be one of the most challenging endeavors we undertake,” Rachel said both she and West are proud of the “rigorous training” they’ve completed.

    “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,” she said.

    Taking on all these challenges, it may seem like the Kicklighters, who first began dating as freshmen at West Point, are gluttons for punishment. But backing up some years, Samuel said mentors they had during their time in the Department of Civil and Mechanical Engineering at West Point played a “huge role” in their collective decision to join the Army Engineer branch, “and our mentality that Sapper and Ranger is not an exception but an expectation,” Samuel said.

    “Rachel always wanted to attend Sapper school, seeing it as a mentally, physically and technically challenging experience that would make her a better leader and engineer,” Samuel said. “I wanted to attend Sapper school, so I could better prepare Soldiers to successfully complete the course, and to put to test all the things I have learned from Ranger and my time as a platoon leader.”

    While Rachel competes, Samuel said he will likely be at Fort Leonard Wood as well to serve as the coach for the 2CR/RES Best Sapper team — one day they hope to be a team themselves.

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

    Based on their past accomplishments, that could be a formidable future Best Sapper Competition team.

    Learn more about Sappers here.

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