• Penn State University Cadet Kate Bassett shouts instructions Friday to Taylor Moran as Moran aims at targets on the rifle range in the opening marksmanship event of the Sandhurst Competition at West Point, N.Y.

    Sandhurst Competition

    Penn State University Cadet Kate Bassett shouts instructions Friday to Taylor Moran as Moran aims at targets on the rifle range in the opening marksmanship event of the Sandhurst Competition at West Point, N.Y.

  • Cadets look for enemy targets during the marksmanship event.

    Sandhurst Competition

    Cadets look for enemy targets during the marksmanship event.

WEST POINT, N.Y. -- Somewhere, tucked behind earthen mounds dotting the rising elevation of the vast range, an advancing enemy honed in on the battle point being protected by Cadets.

Hunkered behind plastic and wooden barricades, the Cadets aimed their M16s over and around their cover and into the openness, waiting to pick off combatants who might show themselves.

Marksmanship highlighted the opening day of the annual Sandhurst Competition, a Ranger Challenge-like event pitting 55 teams from around the world in a variety of events, also including land navigation, water operations and a challenge course. Each of Cadet Command's eight brigades has one team in the field.

The marksmanship event aimed to put participants in a situation they might someday encounter in combat. Their goal: Take out as many enemy targets as possible during an intense 15-minute stretch without harming friendlies.

The enemy was represented by green silhouettes; the latter was identified with silhouettes painted in white.

Unlike last years past, organizers added elements to the scenario as a way to stress Cadets more, said Maj. Bryan Bonnema, officer in charge of the range.

The first was in how teams approached the range. Instead of being shuttled by truck, they had to race a couple hundred yards up a hill to receive ammunition and then scurry to their positions.

Besides the challenge of hitting targets that popped up for only a matter of seconds from as far away as 300 meters, the sounds of gunfire, explosions and shattering glass blared from loud speakers anchored just behind them at the firing line. The piercing noise made communication difficult for squad leaders, who had to periodically hustle from their positions to deliver instructions and tips up close to fellow Cadets.

"This is about more than just being a good marksmen," Bonnema said. "It's about combat focus -- being able to communicate and come up with a direct fire plan, not getting tunnel vision and scanning the entire range."

Friday's scenario posed a realistic view of combat situations in Iraq and Afghanistan, where the enemy is often intermingled with friendly citizens in a non-traditional arena, Bonnema said.

"Target discrimination is vital to combat focus and combat relevancy," said the Iraq war veteran, who encountered enemy fire during his two deployments. "When you're downrange, you have to make that decision between friendly and enemy, combatant and non-combatant. Being able to train that in a scenario like this is important."

Cadets saw the value of what it's like to make life-or-death decisions in a stressful environment.

"This was unlike anything we've been able to train for," said Matt Oppenheim, squad leader for North Carolina State University. "It was a good experience."

Teams approached the marksmanship scenario with a plan. North Carolina State, for instance, visually divided the range into sectors, assigning certain personnel to each.

Penn State assigned a couple of its members serve solely as spotters, calling out enemy targets to shooters laying prone next to them. The decision to use lookouts was one based on experience.

"Knowing how hard it is to see different targets at different angles on this range, we knew that shooters scanning for targets had a hard time seeing them," said Scott Kelly, the squad leader whose team represented 2nd Brigade last year at Sandhurst.

"It was a challenging range. It had a lot more variables added to it, but it made it a lot more interesting."

The intensity of the Sandhurst Competition ratchets up Saturday with a grueling several-miles-long obstacle course that forces teams to not only engage each physically, but also to employ teamwork, communication and problem-solving skills to make it through. North Carolina State will be the first ROTC to take to the course, setting out at 6:05 a.m.

Page last updated Fri April 20th, 2012 at 12:14