A frigid, gray Wednesday morning marked the beginning of a 36-hour trial for the combat engineers of Fort Carson.
Over the course of two days, the six two-man teams from Fort Carson and the 4th Infantry Division will compete for a chance to go to Fort Leonard Wood's Army-wide Best Sapper Competition in April in Missouri.
The competitors began Wednesday with a modified physical fitness test and a 10-minute swim course in full uniform. By the close of business Thursday, they will have navigated obstacle courses, demolition lanes and close to 40 miles of maneuvers.
"These guys make up the premier soldiers of their respective units," explained 4th Infantry Division's lead engineer Maj. Daniel Brady.
To even qualify for the event, the sapper teams need to have at least one soldier who has completed the Army's Sapper Leader Course and wears the coveted Sapper Tab. The tab is earned by only a portion of course graduates.
Before the competition, the soldiers are also required to complete a list of prerequisites to demonstrate their proficiency.
"Their leadership has to endorse them," Brady said.
But their preparation doesn't end with an endorsement.
First Lt. Daniel Butensky explained how he and his teammate prepared: "We started doing two-a-days at the beginning of November. Cardio in the morning and strength in the afternoon."
The two soldiers also worked during their lunch break to maintain their testable skills such as knot tying and weapon assembly. "You just have to keep practicing, perfection is hard to obtain."
When asked why he competes, Butensky said, "For me it is to validate my training as a soldier. It is easy to forget and lose some essential skills.
"I also miss the competition," he added with a smile.
The practice paid off as the teams cruised through several courses Wednesday morning. They were evaluated as they tied complicated knots and explained their use.
Afterward, each team disassembled and reassembled various weapons while answering questions about effective ranges and capabilities.
The final lane of their morning circuit involved using the TALON tracked military robot to dispose of practice roadside bombs.
For the two winning teams, the competition does not end Thursday. The sappers will work with multiple Army programs between now and April to continue developing physically and mentally.
While an important goal of the competition is to promote readiness, part of it has to do with bragging rights.
Although Fort Carson has sent teams to the Army-wide competition for several years it has yet to win it.
"Maj. Gen. George wants us to win at Fort Leonard Wood this year," Brady said of the 4th Infantry Division's commanding officer.
Brady stood next to the sappers as they waited their turn assembling a thermal torch.
"They have worked hard to get here," he said proudly. "These soldiers are the best we have."