U.S. Army | St. Louis Public Radio

U.S. Army

Staff Sergeants Bradley Miller and Rafael Agosto are one of the teams from Fort Leonard Wood in the Best Sapper Competition.
Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio

“Sapper” is the Army’s nickname for the combat engineers who take on a variety of duties all centered around clearing the way for infantry to get where they need to go.

The name comes from the French word “sappe,” meaning to undermine and collapse a wall.

This week, 50 two-person teams of sappers from around the world are at Fort Leonard Wood in the Missouri Ozarks to compete against each other in an event designed to test the wide-ranging skills a sapper needs.

Maj. Gen. Donna Martin is the first woman and third African American to lead Missouri's Fort Leonard Wood.
U.S. Army

U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Donna Martin is the first woman to be in charge at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri’s Ozarks. She took the post in August. Martin, 53, is also only the third African American to hold the position in the installation’s 78-year history.

In an interview with St. Louis Public Radio’s Jonathan Ahl, Martin talked about a variety of issues including how she balances the responsibilities to the military and to the community that relies upon the base:

Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio

Soldiers and their families who live on base at Fort Leonard Wood will now have quarterly opportunities to express any concerns about their homes directly to the Garrison Commander.

And the staff that handles inspections and oversees repairs to the more than 1,800 homes at the base in the Ozarks will increase from three to five.

Those changes are the result of a national effort to review the quality of military housing and address concerns about delays in repairs.

New recruits line up for outdoor lunch on a cold and windy day at Fort Leonard Wood. Some of them are wearing the current version of the boots, others are testing new designs.
Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio

Lt. Col. Alfred Boone saw a disturbing trend among the new recruits he oversees at Fort Leonard Wood in the Missouri Ozarks.

“Infected blisters, hairline fractures, hip strains,” Boone said, describing the increase in injuries among the new soldiers.

Boone said the Army had a hunch that its iconic boots — the tan, heavy, high laced footwear — were to blame, because so many of the new recruits have never before worn hard-soled shoes.

Volunteer carpenters from Builder's Bloc frame the new home in Wildwood on September 29, 2018.
Shahla Farzan | St. Louis Public Radio

The tap of Mike Wheeler’s hammer echoes through the forest, as he helps frame the walls of a new home in Wildwood.

Wheeler is one of a dozen carpenters volunteering to build a home for a returning veteran and his family. The project, which began in August, is the culmination of a years-long effort to provide a mortgage-free home for U.S. Army veteran and St. Louis native Heath Howes, who was severely wounded while serving in Afghanistan.