Army ROTC teams find Sandhurst a challenging learning experience
April 20, 2011
WEST POINT, N.Y. - An exhausted Mark Delaney crossed the finish at Saturday's Sandhurst Military Skills Competition.
He wasn't drained physically. He was mentally spent.
"It's tougher than Ranger Challenge because it doesn't focus on the physical," said Delaney, captain of the University of Maryland team. "It's hard to prepare for what you don't know is coming your way."
The challenges facing teams on a seven-mile route snaking through a wooded area south of the U.S. Military Academy weren't so much focused on competitors' brute force as their intellectual strength.
Saturday served as the meat of the annual two-day competition, requiring the 50 teams from around the world, including one entry from each of Cadet Command's eight brigades, to engage seven events. Running through them all - amid cold and drizzle - takes four to five straight hours.
There was no rest. There were no lunch breaks.
In fact, teams didn't even know much about the events they would take on, let alone their task once they arrived, until they were sequestered from their coaches and cadre late Friday night.
Besides the fact that events were scattered about, otherwise seemingly simple obstacles came with added requirements. For instance, one known as The Wall figured to be a straightforward push to get each of a team's nine members over a 25-foot high slant wall.
What participants didn't anticipate were having to also haul eight 25-pound sandbags without any of the bags touching the wall or the ground. And having to do it all blindfolded.
At the obstacle course, Cadets had to work their way through challenges without touching certain points on the ground and staying to certain sides of the obstacle. At stream-crossing, they not only had to erect a one-rope bridge, but had to figure a way to get almost 200 pounds worth of sandbags and equipment across the stream, as well as their "wounded" team captain who was unable to walk.
Executing the tasks required considerable teamwork and communication.
Cadets with Northern Arizona University spent much of Friday evening plotting strategy, identifying each squad member's role and the need to maintain cohesion.
"We needed to all be on the same page," said Renee Ingerson, the team's captain. "That's part of the reason our team does so well in these types of events."
Northern Arizona topped all ROTC teams, taking 15th overall. The University of Hawai'i was second among Cadet Command entries, coming 24th overall. A team from the military academy won the overall title, the first non-British or non-Canadian winner since 1994.
West Point's superintendent, Lt. Gen. David Huntoon Jr., said the competition epitomized character and leadership.
"For 44 years, Sandhurst has represented the finest example in military skills," he said. "Today was a tough test of those skills."
Prior to Saturday's awards ceremony, Maj. Gen. Mark McDonald gathered with the ROTC teams, applauding their efforts. The commanding general of U.S. Army Cadet Command also presented each with a streamer to hang on their guidons.
Until their teams had earned invites, many ROTC Cadets were unfamiliar with Sandhurst and its legacy. But they quickly learned about the British and Canadian teams that have dominated the famed competition since they began entering the event almost 20 years ago.
Programs like Maryland knew the chance of winning the overall title would be formidable. So cadets set what they considered realistic goals - top all ROTC teams and finish in the top 10.
"This is an awesome opportunity to put Maryland's name out there, and set us up for success to come back year after year," Delaney said. "We did well and had fun. We got a lot accomplished. I chalk that up as success."
With a team that will return all but two seniors next year, exposure to Sandhurst will go a long way to making the University of Northern Arizona more competitive next year, Ingerson said.
"Not only will it build those basic skills we hadn't built, it'll definitely help us be ahead of the curve," said Ingerson, one of the seniors.
One cadet who expects to be back is William Larrabee, a sophomore with Florida State University. Clutching his program's guidon after Saturday's awards ceremony, he isn't settling for merely an opportunity to compete.
"For us to make it to the next level is a big deal," he said. "Not every program gets the opportunity to do this."
The Army ROTC teams participating represented:
Norwich University (1st Brigade), The Pennsylviania State University (2d Brigade), the University of North Dakota (3d Brigade), the Univrsity of Maryland (4th Brigade), Northern Arizona University (5th Brigade), Florida State University (6th Brigade), Michigan State University (7th Brigade) and the University of Hawai'i (8th Brigade).