Sandhurst rifle
Cadet Bruce Richards, with Brigham Young University, fires at a target, April 19, 2013, during opening day action of the Sandhurst Competition at West Point, N.Y.

WEST POINT, N.Y. (April 19, 2013) -- Adam Harrison laid out his plan. His East Tennessee State University Sandhurst teammates would fan out evenly across the firing line in a combat scenario, half to the left and half to the right.

Harrison wanted to position himself in the center to direct the action and to keep the school's shooters evenly dispersed to take out enemy targets spread across the expansive range in front of them. But when they raced toward a cement wall draped in camouflage to barricade themselves behind, most gravitated to the left, forcing Harrison out of position and leaving him to try to cover much of the range's right side.

Even in the intensity of mock combat, plans can experience hiccups.

"When the enemy isn't shooting back at you, it'll do the job," Harrison said. "It's when they're shooting back that it's less desirable."

Live fires highlighted the opening day of the annual Sandhurst Competition, an international event pitting 58 teams in a variety of Soldier tasks aimed at testing participants physically and mentally. Each of Cadet Command's eight brigade Ranger Challenge winners are among those in the field, as well as squads from the United States Military Academy, Air Force Academy, Korea, Canada and Brazil.

Australia is the defending champion of the competition, which has long been dominated by Great Britain. In fact, a West Point team's victory in 2011 made it the first win since 1994 by a team other than the British or the Canadians.

Central Washington led the way for ROTC teams last year, finishing 13th overall. Cadets hope to improve upon that this weekend.

If Friday was any indication, they're off to a strong start. Results aren't released until the event is complete, but Harrison said he learned East Tennessee, which was the 10th team to set out on the course Friday, had posted the top pistol score up to that point. They also passed three other teams along the route that had started before them.

Friday's events took teams along a nearly 10-mile route, beginning and ending at the parade field on the West Point campus. Officials estimated that completing it would take roughly six hours.

Besides shooting with rifles and pistols, participants trekked through land navigation and grenade assault courses.

Their physical mettle was challenged from the start. Unlike years past when teams were driven by van to the range, teams had to march several miles to the site. Once there, they received their mission and had to scale a steep hill, then low-crawl under an obstacle for some 25 yards, then race to their firing points.

With rifles in hand, the mission was to properly engage an array of pop-up targets at distances of as much as 300 meters. Those painted in green represented combatants, while white targets were designated as civilians.

"Doing this gets their heart rates up and stresses them and gets them to really focus on applying the fundamentals of marksmanship," said Maj. Bryan Bonnema, officer in charge of the range. "It makes it that much more realistic and forces them to use their tactical and problem-solving skills."

What was supposed to be march to the range quickly became a run for several teams in an attempt to improve overall course times.

Used to the flatlands of Texas, Texas A&M Cadets were tiring physically traversing the hilly terrain toward the range. But once they heard the sound of gunfire gradually becoming louder as they closed in on the site, Saul Gancara, the team's squad leader, said it served as motivation.

He said he felt he and his teammates were stronger shooting pistols than rifles, where competitors were required to don bulky protective eyewear.

"It was tough to see through them," Gancara said. "Plus, we weren't given a signal of when to start. Targets just started popping up."

Saturday's competition regimen, which wasn't shared with competitors until Friday evening, traditionally presents more difficult challenges to teams, taking some as much as 10 straight hours to complete. However, due to budget constraints, the final day course has been moved from its typical location in a remote mountainous region of eastern New York and onto the West Point campus.

Winners are expected to be announced Saturday night.

Huddling with his teammates, trying to replenish himself with apple slices and chocolate milk, Gancara said Texas A&M would spend Friday night resting. Several Cadets suffered cramps, himself included, toward the end of the opening-day run.

After such a strenuous event Friday, Gancara hoped he had seen the worst Sandhurst has to offer.

"It'll be less of a grind," he said. "It has to be, knock on wood."

Page last updated Fri April 19th, 2013 at 00:00