For military engineers, the sought-after sapper tab is a testament to their leadership skills, small unit tactics, and general toughness. A Sapper is widely considered to be an elite combat engineer.
In Siguatepeque, Honduras, home of the 1st Engineering Battalion, Sergeant Yesica Carolina Baires became the first female engineer to accomplish the grueling Sapper Leader Course, becoming Sapper qualified and wearing the coveted Sapper tab.
“A Sapper is soldier that is trained in the clearing of mines, deactivation of mine fields, who also works with charge loads during combat… to deter the enemy from passing through a chokepoint by using charge loads as traps for enemy forces,” said Sgt. Baires.
To accomplish their mission, combat engineers employ a wide variety of hand and power tools as well as explosives. Combat engineers are responsible for traditional construction, but also for a wide range of more specialized tasks, including the construction and demolition of roads, airfields, bridges, camouflage, field fortifications, and all types of battlefield obstacles.
“During her time in the 1st Engineering Battalion she has been very responsible, as an NCO she has done all her tasks the right way and has been a huge motivation for her fellow Soldiers. She is not only a committed Soldier, she is a natural athlete,” said Colonel Melvin Carbajal, 1st Engineering Battalion commander, “She represents our battalion very well and we are all very proud of her. She decided to complete the Sapper course, which no other woman had done before.”
Sgt. Baires explains that she was interested in becoming a combat engineer after observing the Sappers in action and watching videos about them.
“My classmates would tell me I couldn’t do it because it was a very tough course and only men can make it. But I did not see it that way. I am a woman – but I can also make it through the course,” said Sgt. Baires, “So I entered the course, surrounded only by males, and thought ‘Will I make it?’ It was very difficult but I would tell myself: ‘I have to graduate and become a Sapper because I represent all women in the Honduran Army and Armed Forces. We can be Sappers if we are determined to.’”
Sgt. Baires is currently an instructor at the Military Training Center for the Army located in Olancho, Honduras, where she is in charge of a platoon composed of 135 Soldiers-in-training.
“Something as simple as teaching the Soldiers how to salute is a great source of pride to me because I see them doing it right, and I know that I am the one who taught them that. I teach them the military vocabulary. And when I see that they are becoming real Soldiers--the little details make me emotional. I get excited when I see my Soldiers, I feel like I am really teaching them something,” said Sgt. Baires.
Joint Task Force-Bravo and other U.S. Southern Command engineering units often work side-by-side with their Honduran military counterparts from the 1st Engineering Battalion on a variety of construction and restoration projects, and share knowledge and experience on engineering related techniques.
“We continue to develop our courses here which are based on what we have learned from the U.S. Army,” said Col. Carbajal. “The instructors for this Sapper course have received training from the U.S. Army and the Army Engineer School in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. We are grateful for the support and the good relationship we have with the U.S. Southern Command.”