Anyone who knows CPT Rudy Chelednik knows I speak the truth when I say no one deserved the Best Sapper Trophy in 2018 more than he. I've known Rudy for several years, and from the moment I met him I was captivated by how awesome he was. Everything he does, from fishing to rucking a 12 miler in under an hour and a half, is just impressive. He is everything you'd expect from a combat leader, and now he and his 1SG have proven to be the best the Engineer Regiment has to offer.
I had the great fortune of catching up with Rudy a bit amidst his busy job as the HHC Commander for the 3BCT "Rakkasans" in the 101st Airborne Division. The following is an interview we held in the aftermath of his team's great victory at the Best Sapper Competition. I hope you enjoy!
Rudy, it's great to catch up with you again, and congratulations on your victory! I'm so proud of you man, and I know all of our fellow Hammer Officer Alumni would say the same!
A: Thanks Zack! It's good to hear from you too, and I'm pumped you're having a great time at West Point.
Thanks, I'm having an awesome time up here teaching the cadets. Not long ago we were in their shoes, it's crazy!
A: I know, those were some good times! Well, kind of...
Alright Rudy, let's get into it. Aside from unlocking the secret to winning Best Sapper, in the unlikely event I give it a shot next year, I really want to open up your story for our fellow Soldiers and Officers in the Regiment, and really anyone that is interested in serving our country and aspires to do their best. So I'm going to ask you several questions to help us understand who you are, how you see our roles in the Army as leaders, and ultimately how you kicked butt in the Best Sapper Competition!
Alright so first question. Rudy, was the military always your first choice of career?
A: I would say yes considering coming out of high school I was unsure of what I wanted to do with my life. I was recruited to wrestle at West Point first, and as I researched what that entailed, I got excited about the opportunity to serve and get a first class education. As I progressed through college, I began to understand what it meant to be a servant to the nation. I can honestly say that my seven years of service have been the best years of my life. I have gotten the opportunity to deploy to Afghanistan twice, attend awesome leadership schools and meet amazing people along the way.
Are any other members of your family service members?
A: There have not been many of my family members in the military. My Grandfather served in the Korean War as a Marine and my Uncle was also a Marine.
What was your motivation for competing in the Best Sapper Competition this year?
A: I think that leaders have to show their subordinates that they can still lead from the front. My 1SG and I decided that we wanted to compete even though training time would be limited. We decided that we were going to push ourselves and validate our training program.
Was the competition anything like Sapper School?
A: The competition tested many of the same skills that were taught at Sapper School, but Sapper Leader Course did a good job of incorporating current Engineer skills into the competition. The biggest difference between the competition and the school is just that everything is packed into a two and a half day period. Throughout the competition thirty skills were tested and we covered over 70 miles.
Are you going to compete again?
A: I’m not exactly sure of my career timeline right now, but I would like to. It is a personal goal of mine to compete in the Best Ranger Competition, so that might be in the cards as well. About 50 miles into the competition, my partner and I swore that we wouldn’t ever compete again, but just last week he said that we have to be the first team to ever win it twice.
What is your best memory from Sapper School?
A: There are too many to mention. The relationships that I built going through the crucible event that is Sapper Leader Course are some of my most fond memories.
What is your worst memory from Sapper School?
A: The long walk mission was pretty terrible for my class. We definitely “no go’d” the crater mission and had to carry a bunch of extra weight. I fell asleep walking during that one. In hindsight though, I really don’t have any “bad” memories. They were all just opportunities to learn.
In the Army, there is a lot of credit automatically given to the Sapper Tab (and Ranger Tab), and rightfully so. Similar to my experience with Sapper School though, I’m sure you find it difficult to apply everything you learn to your everyday job. What would you say is the single most impactful lesson you learned from Sapper School that has had the most effect on your career?
A: You are absolutely right that we don’t have the opportunity to apply all of the lessons learned at Sapper School on a daily basis. (Nor do we remember them all) But the course definitely teaches you how to push yourself past your limits and how to operate in less than ideal conditions. In my opinion Sapper School can really change your life. It gives you confidence that you can complete any task and gives you instant credibility. That being said, you have to earn that tab every day and the real hard work comes after you return.
What are your plans for the future? You’re finishing up command soon. What’s the next chapter of your life look like?
A: I’m still trying to figure that out. I have about 10 months left as the HHC, BDE Company Commander. Following that I want to be an ROTC instructor at the University of Missouri where my fiancé is finishing her residency in General Surgery. We are getting married in October and eventually I would like to start a family. The Army has been so good to me so far, I am sure whatever my next assignment is, will be awesome.
What is CPT Rudy Chelednik like outside of the Army?
A: Outside of the Army I enjoy being outdoors with my fiancé, Amanda and our two dogs. We like to fish and camp together. Although, Amanda has done the majority of the wedding planning, I help with that when I’m not fly fishing.
You are avid fisherman. It seems everytime I see a picture of you, you have a fish in your hands. What draws you to fishing?
A: I just like to get away from the stressors of work and be in the outdoors. I love fishing for trout anywhere that they live and it’s usually a really pretty place. More than anything, I like helping people catch fish. That’s really my passion and one day I hope to make it a retirement job.
Does fishing make you a better Sapper? Really, are there any parts of fishing that translate into the military and make you a better leader?
A: I don’t know about that. It’s always a good release and I think that you need to separate your work life from your personal life to a certain extent. My partner and I definitely caught trout the day before the competition, so maybe we are on to something. If anyone needs a “Best Sapper Fishing Guide,” I am your man.
What’s your most memorable fishing experience?
A: Growing up, many of our family vacations were centered on fishing trips. I love going back to Pennsylvania and fishing on the first day of trout season with my Dad, brother and Grandpa. I missed it this year because of Best Sapper, but I guess that was excusable. We have fished in the same streams since I was about five and have so many good memories that I will cherish for the rest of my life.
Other than fishing, what are some of your other hobbies?
A: I like to hunt when I have the time. My whole life, my Dad always had a bunch of hunting dogs ranging from Beagles, to Raccoon Dogs, to Squirrel Dogs. I try to go on a couple hunts a year when the fishing doesn’t get in the way.
What helped you most in preparing for the Best Sapper Competition? Any study resources? Any particular gear? Any workouts?
A: Honestly, we didn’t have a lot of time to train and rightfully so, my Chain of Command was a little bit hesitant to allow us to compete considering we were a Company Command Team. We made a deal with them that we wouldn’t sacrifice our daily jobs in order to compete. I have to give a lot of credit to my partner, SFC (P) Robert Clark. He is the most technically proficient Soldier that I have ever met. His knowledge base is unbelievable and he is a Soldier that we can all look up to. It is truly an honor to be associated with him. The key to success was mainly centered on him being a stud, but we also made a very cohesive team. We didn’t fight or argue for any of the competition and motivated each other the whole way. When one of us was feeling down, the other brought up the team.
What advice would you give to leaders aspiring to attend Sapper School?
A: The biggest advice that I can give is just go. I hear too many stories of Soldiers saying why they could never attend. Sapper Leader Course has made the course much more acceptable to the masses and now all that you have to do is pass a PT test and pass the 12 mile road march. They have opened up the gates, Soldiers now just have to make the best of the opportunity. Additionally, treat patrols like it is real. It sounds cliché, but I truly believe that is the key to success. Too many people try to “game the system” because they are tired or hungry. If you treat every patrol as if your life depended on it, you won’t have any issues.
What advice would you give to leaders aspiring to compete in the Best Sapper Competition?
A: I challenge everyone wearing a tab to compete in the Best Sapper Competition. It’s a phenomenal experience and it will challenge you in ways that you can’t imagine. I said earlier that the hardest part of earning the Sapper Tab is the work after you return home and I mean it. You owe it to your Soldiers and to all of the former Sappers to continue to sharpen your sword.
What else would you like to say?
A: I’d just like to thank Sapper Leader Course for putting together a great competition. I know that a lot of hard work goes into the planning of the event and I look forward to the progression of both the competition and the school. Also, please donate to the Sapper Association. Your donation will directly affect Soldiers and the competition in the future.
Awesome. Thanks for your time Rudy, it's great to hear from you and you offered us all some great insight into the dedication and drive we owe ourselves and our Soldiers in the Army. Take care brother and keep doing great things!