U.S. Army Captain Andrew Schmidt completed the grueling Sapper Leader Course

by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - Former Prineville resident Captain Andrew Schmidt recently completed the Sapper Leader Course at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.

United States Army sappers are trained to clear the way for all other soldiers to follow.

They are the first to hit enemy front lines.

They clear mines, fortifications, and obstacles for friendly forces.

Now, a Crook County High School graduate has joined this elite group.

Captain Andrew Schmidt, who grew up in Prineville, recently attended and completed the four-week Sapper Leader Course at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. The training pushed the 33-year-old, five-year veteran to the limit.

"It is quite intimidating," he said. "In fact, of the courses inside the Army curriculum, it is one of the toughest courses mentally, emotionally, and physically. Even though it is only 28 days, it is very demanding."

Not only did Schmidt complete the grueling course, he did so for a second straight time.

"He went through twice in a row," said Sergeant First Class Andrew Messick. "He didn't have any rest. He didn't start fresh like a lot of the other students do."

Schmidt had to shore up some deficiencies from the first course before he could graduate on his second try. Messick said he not only fixed them, but became a standout student.

"We actually looked to him to improve the group he was with," said Messick.

Messick explained that a sapper needs a high level of motivation and self-confidence as well as a willingness to make personal sacrifices for the team. They have to think quickly on their feet, and react to situations with minimal sleep and food.

"I enjoy the challenge," Schmidt said. "You find that in demanding missions, the soldiers are of a higher caliber and are more close-knit. Those are the types of soldiers I want to lead, because they are the kinds of soldiers who teach me the most about camaraderie, about loyalty, duty, and respect."

Growing up, Schmidt always had an interest in the military. He enjoyed spending time outdoors as a Boy Scout, and later joined the high school's NJROTC program. Yet, he did not enlist right after high school as many others do.

He first attended college, and then went on a church mission to South Korea for two years. He later worked as a wildland firefighter and was employed as a high school teacher in Sweet Home. Then came his decision to enlist.

"I had a midlife crisis around 2008, where I lost my job and couldn't find one," Schmidt recalls.

As a sapper, Schmidt is one of military's best combat engineers.

"Without sappers, we would be mired in the enemy's defense works," he said. "Because of the classes I was able to take, I understand how to defeat the enemy in their own defense, and set up our own defense to protect our own soldiers."

While that is the case, sappers are called upon for more than combat. The training also requires proficiency in math and science.

"The Army asks the engineers to do a variety of tasks," Schmidt said. "Everything from combat-related missions, to building roads and bridges, to doing analysis on topography."

When Schmidt decided to enlist, he remembers his wife having concerns about the decision. She was worried about him being deployed or being killed. Since that time, however, she has supported him the whole way, and they are both pleased with the impact the military has had on their life and the support they have received.

"She agrees this is one of the best choices we have made as a family," said Schmidt.

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