Kentucky Sappers named best engineer unit

Story by Capt. Desiree Dillehay, 206th Engineer Battalion

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Capt. Robert McWhorter, former commander of the 1123rd Engineer Company, compliments Soldiers of the unit during their annual training at Camp Atterbury, Ind. June 25, 2015. The unit was named the best engineer company in the Army National Guard for 2014, earning them the Itschner Award. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by SGt. Sandra Fariss)

FRANKFORT, Ky. —  The Kentucky National Guard’s 1123rd Sapper Company was named Most Outstanding Engineer Company of the Year for 2014.

The Itschner Plaque is an award given to the most outstanding engineer company each year. First awarded in 1960, the award is named in honor of Army Lt. Gen. Emerson C. Itschner. In 1974, the competition for the Itschner Award was broadened to include the Army National Guard and the Army Reserve.

With hard work and dedication to the mission, to the 206th Engineer Battalion, the 149th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, and to the Kentucky Army National Guard, the 1123rd received the Itschner Award for the fiscal training year 2014.

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Soldiers of the 112rd Engineer Company gather for a group photo at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, Calif., Aug. 21, 2014. The three-week rotation at NTC was the culminating event of a hard year of training for the unit. (Photo courtesy of the 1123rd Engineer Co.)

The level of proficiency that this company achieved during the evaluated period has inspired the unit’s leadership, who said the award serves as a testament to the Soldiers’ unwavering motivation, dedication to their unit, and their ability to learn, adapt and overcome any obstacle. Given the many hurdles National Guard units inherently face with training continuity between drill weekends, this unit’s Non Commissioned Officers and Officers are exceptionally outstanding.

“Winning the Itschner Award speaks of the caliber of Soldiers within the 1123rd Sapper,” said Lt. Col. James Richmond, commander of the 206th Engineer Battalion.  “The unit is only eight years old and to have achieved superior achievements in strength, training, and performance in such a short time and against such a complex mission set is simply incredible.”

Richmond also added that few know what Sappers are in the military. “He is the Swiss Army Knife of Soldiers, in essence an infantryman who specializes in laying or clearing minefields,
demolitions, field defenses and general construction, as well as road and airfield construction and repair.”

Click here for more photos of the 1123rd.

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Engineers with the 1123rd Sapper Company change a tire on an armored vehicle during a training exercise at Fort Irwin, Calif., Aug. 15, 2014. The unit’s hard work at NTC earned them respect from a variety of training supervisors and Reserve and active duty units. (Photo courtesy of 1123rd Engineer Co.)

For the 1123rd, a 20 day rotation at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, California was the culmination of a rigorous six month journey. Originally, the 1123rd was considered to serve as a component of the Opposing Force (OPFOR), but the focus shifted and the Sappers had an opportunity to serve as a Brigade Special Troops Battalion (BSTB) enabler in order to perform route clearance missions. This assignment required a dramatic change in the unit’s task organization, moving from three Sapper platoons and a headquarters platoon to two Route Clearance Packages, one Company Intelligence Support Team and a headquarters platoon. The 1123rd had 14 training days from March to July to prepare for NTC. The pace of training became very intense and success hinged on detailed planning, commitment to excellence and, most importantly, leveraging the knowledge of experienced route clearance personnel to increase training efficiencies without compromising quality.

The Sappers executed their strenuous training plan and completed the NTC rotation with remarkable results. Competence, adaptability and readiness for any mission was proudly displayed throughout the exercise. The 1123rd received accolades from a variety of training supervisors and both reserve and active duty counterparts. The predominant theme conveyed during the course of training was the unit’s willingness and desire to learn and better themselves. A high level of motivation and a productive and professional culture was demonstrated to every Soldier in the company.

The 1123rd was given professional development and networking opportunities that would not have been available without a rotation at NTC. These opportunities allowed the 1123rd leadership to collaborate with their active duty counterparts and higher headquarters in order to establish the unit’s relevance and credibility. This paid dividends as the 1123rd maintained an active voice in their utilization and had the opportunity to contribute to missions for the battalion in addition to route clearance.

The 1123rd has gained an incredible amount of experience this year and is fully prepared to carry out its engineer mission, only now with the title of “the best.”

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A Soldier with the 1123rd Engineer Company takes up a defensive position during a training exercise at Camp Atterbury, Ind., June 21, 2015. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Spc. Brooklynd Decker)

“The Soldiers are truly honored to receive this award,” said Sgt. 1st Class Thomas Elmore, readiness NCO for the 1123rd. “This unit went from standing up the 1123rd in 2009 to the best National Guard engineer unit in the country in 2014. Don’t know how else to put it except they are proud to be the BEST.”

However, the 1123rd Sapper Company is not just an operational machine. In addition to their rigorous training schedules, they incorporated time to give back to their community. The 1123rd is broken into two armories located in Leitchfield and Marion, Kentucky. Both locations have long been and continue to be involved with their respective communities. During the 2014 training year the two armories actively contributed to several community events, either during scheduled drill or by Soldiers volunteering outside of normal duty periods. The 1123rd participated by marching in the Christmas and Labor Day parades, provided speakers and representatives to three Veterans’ Day events and a Memorial Day ceremony. Additionally, they collaborated with the local American Legion for military funeral honors for veterans upon their family’s request.

“The level of proficiency that this company has achieved during the evaluated period is truly remarkable and serves as a testament to their unwavering motivation, dedication to their unit and their ability to learn, adapt and overcome any obstacle through Unbridled Service,” said Elmore.

The Soldiers of the 1123rd are revered throughout the 206th Engineer Battalion for always maintaining a high level of motivation in any training environment and with every mission; this training year they have raised the bar. Engrained into this company is a true sense of ownership and pride, where each Soldier maintains a stake in its success and proactively works to improve the unit.

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