Guardsmen complete personal courage exercise

Thursday, August 16, 2012
Missouri National Guard Spc. Johnnie Sims, of the 880th Engineer Haul Team, in Perryville, rappels down Sapper Cliff at Fort Leonard Wood. It was the first time Sims had ever rappelled. (Photo by Matthew J. Wilson)

FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. -- About 20 Missouri National Guardsmen recently had the chance to display personal courage by overcoming any fear of heights they might have during a rappelling exercise.

Soldiers from Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 35th Engineer Brigade, of Fort Leonard Wood, and the 880th Engineer Haul Team, of Perryville, combined to rappel at Sapper Cliff at Training Area 606 on post.

Sgt. 1st Class Kevan Phillips, the training and readiness noncommissioned officer for the 35th, said the purpose of the exercise was to instill confidence in the Soldiers and have fun.

"On the values of the Noncommissioned Officer Evaluation Report it's the seventh comment -- personal courage, overcoming fear and adversity," said Philips, who was the rappel master for the exercise.

For the novices and as a refresher for the more seasoned Guardsmen, Phillips went over detailed instructions of how to tie a Swiss seat, hook up to the rappel ropes, use safety equipment and how to use and release the brake mechanism.

Soldiers then took turns rappelling down a more than 100-foot cliff.

"We finished on time and had no injuries," said Phillips, who lives in Farmington.

Phillips said it was a good opportunity for two units to share some camaraderie together and being in the groups put pressure on each Soldier to overcome their individual fear and rappel.

"They demonstrate that they can overcome their fear," he said. "I did have some Soldiers who were scared that did it -- they convinced themselves that they are not going to get hurt. And of course, they were in good hands."

A few Guardsmen not only went down the traditional way, but also went head first, known as Australian style.

For Spc. Johnnie Sims, of the 880th, and Spc. Matt Beaty, of the 35th, it was their first experience with military rappelling after missing out on it in basic training with an injury and an illness, respectively.

Sims, who lives in Jonesboro, Ill., called the experience awesome.

"It was kind of scary at first when you drop over the edge and brake for the first time," he said. "Then it was like, 'Oh, wow. This is easy. This is cool.' I liked it."

Testing himself as a Soldier by doing something uncomfortable is something that is important to Sims.

"I've always been like that," Sims said. "It's just to prove to myself that I can do it. Plus, you can't say that you don't like something if you've never done it."

Beaty, who lives in Rolla, said he has rappelled before, but not in a military setting.

"I used to do it all the time for fun while I was growing up," he said.

Rappelling the military way was interesting for Beatty.

"It was a bit of a thrill rush, that's for sure, with lots of adrenaline," he said.

Although Beaty said he doesn't normally struggle with heights, taking that first step over the edge was still challenging.

Beaty, who is a medic, also found the experience made for some valuable training.

"I think it's good to learn some new things that you might have to do in a combat situation," Beaty said. "You never know when a situation where you'll need this training might arise. Even as a medic, somebody might fall off a cliff like this and you might be the only one out there. So you might be the guy going down the rope to help them and if you've never done it in training, it would be real tough."

Spc. Cade Smith, of the 880th, called the activity a good mix of play and learning.

"This was fun and good training," said Smith, who lives in East Prairie. "It's nice to be able to get on Fort Leonard Wood and train like this."

Although Smith has experience rappelling, he is not a fan of being at high elevations.

"I use something like this to help me slowly get over my fear of heights," he said. "This builds confidence."

The best way, Smith said, to get over that fear is to just keep putting yourself in those situations.

"I just stepped over the side of the cliff and went," he said. "I was scared and I was shaking, but you've just got to do it."

Overall, the Soldiers were pleased with Phillips' instruction and ability to make them feel comfortable.

"Sgt. Phillips is an A-plus instructor," Smith said. "He's part of the reason why I do this. He's on the ball and made it a lot easier. More of this would be awesome."

Sims agreed.

"We couldn't ask for a better instructor, I don't think," Sims said.

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For more information about this release, please contact Matthew J. Wilson at 573-638-9500 EXT. 4706 or e-mail him at

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