Rain subsided, the temperature plummeted and jubilation turned to determination as teams of Military Cadets made their way to historic Washington Hall for the start of the 2016 Sandhurst competition held on the United States Military Academy campus at West Point, New York, April 8-9.
What started in 1967 as a friendly challenge between the Army’s Corps of Cadets and those from the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst located in Camberley, United Kingdom for a British Officer’s sword has blossomed into a 60 team, multinational match of whit, skill and endurance that stretched nearly 35 miles over 36 hours.
“It’s been a bit taxing so far,” joked Officer Cadet Perry Jolly of the United Kingdom, on a training day prior to the competition. “I think we’ll win.”
Jolly, a British Cadet from one 13 international teams, joined his counterparts from as near as Canada and as far as China in this year’s quest for International bragging rights. Almost all of those making their first visits to the United States.
“I am excited to compete, but I’m also looking forward to getting it done. This is my first time ever off the European continent and I’m staying for a couple of weeks afterwards just to enjoy myself,” he said.
This year’s competition boasts 13 different stations through the rugged terrain of the Hudson River valley surrounding West Point. Those stations included functional fitness, small arms qualification, react to contact and more. For most this was their first taste of infantry tactics but for some it was an opportunity to build upon the trials and tribulations of years past.
“There are a couple of us on the team that had the…so called…luxury of competing in last year’s contest and it was a lot more squad patrol based than what I expected,” said Cadet Zachary Delph of Michigan State University.
MSU is one of eight teams from Cadet Command’s Reserve Officer Training Corps who are competing in Sandhurst and on a year where the ROTC program turns 100, there was a lot of anticipation over what this year’s contest might bring.
Delph, who experienced a grueling casualty carry up the muddy ski slopes of West Point last year, battle buddy and gear in tow, had only good things too say about the challenge.
“Emotionally, last year was pretty tough but this is definitely a team building exercise and it helped us come together for this go around. You’re physically and mentally tired and you get frustrated with your buddies but you learn to think like a leader. You shake it off and you move on,” he said.
For the trainers of the Army Reserve’s 104th Training Div. (LT), this year marked a milestone as for the first time in their storied history, they were not only tapped to facilitate the train-up prior to the competition but the actual competition itself.
“Usually we come out here, do the train up before the competition, and leave,” said Sgt. 1st Class Scott Wilburn, 3rd Bn., 304th Inf. Reg. (USMA), 104th Training Div. (LT). “This year we are actually staying to help out with the actual competition. We finally get to see the end result of all our work.”
“I think that will help us going forward as trainers,” he added. “We can see our deficiencies and then work on what we need to do to better ourselves.”
For others with the 104th this year marks a first in other ways.
“I’ve been out here for the Cadet Summer Training mission but this is my first time at Sandhurst,” Sgt. 1st Class David Palczewski, 3rd Bn., 304th Inf. Reg. (USMA), 104th Training Div. (LT), who is running the hand grenade train up.
“It’s been fun working with some of the international teams who are not familiar with our weapon systems like the hand grenades and M4 (carbine). It makes it more enjoyable you see people take an interest in what you are trying to teach them.”
Finishing where they started, at Washington Hall, one-by-one, teams of cadets completed the last of the 13 tasks, ran to the finish line and collapsed, grimacing in painful smiles with what they had accomplished.
The overall winner of this year’s competition was the Royal Military College of Canada. Team H-3 placed the best of the USMA teams and the University of Texas A&M finished first in the ROTC division.
WEST POINT, NY, UNITED STATES
Story by Sgt. 1st Class Brian Hamilton
108th Training Command- Initial Entry Training