Cadets endure grueling Sandhurst course
April 21, 2012
WEST POINT, N.Y. -- From the start, they were cheery, mugging for photos and joking with each other.
Then it quickly got serious. And stressful.
As Cadets competing in the finale Saturday of the annual Sandhurst Competition crossed the finish -- some more than 10 hours after they began -- those smiles were gone, replaced by straight faces reddened from exertion.
Day 2 of Sandhurst tests Cadets like most have never been tested before, pushing them to complete strenuous tasks from lofty heights, in water and over a rugged landscape.
"They're just worn out," Cadet Brandon Pearson said of his Middle Tennessee State University squad. "But, hey, they did it. This is no team. This is a family right here."
Results weren't immediately available late Saturday.
Army ROTC teams stood out early, though. Middle Tennessee and Central Washington University finished the stream-crossing event in roughly eight minutes, the fastest times posted among the first dozen or so teams to do the event in the competition's opening hours.
In all, 55 teams, including several foreign representatives, raced along a several-miles-long course that circled around the United States Military Academy's Camp Buckner training grounds. All of the events were designed to challenge participants' abilities to interpret situations, make quick decisions and work as a team.
They had to figure out ways to physically move various equipment and a howitzer several hundreds yards along a grass field. They had to work in unison to maneuver a boat around specific buoys on a pond. They had to determine the best way to get their squad and a 75-pound ammo can safely across a stream. They had to rappel down the slick rock façade of a mountain.
And they had to do it all as quickly as possible.
"Ten hours of it was enough for us," Pearson said. "Everybody on our team gave everything they had."
Cadet Command leadership, including the commanding general, followed Cadets as they competed throughout the day Saturday.
Maj. Gen. Jefforey Smith applauded the teams' efforts and spent time in the evening with the Cadets, talking to them about the role they'll soon play in the Army and fielding questions from them on topics ranging from physical fitness to scholarship funding.
Col. Lou Wingate, the command's director of training, sees the exposure Cadets get to Sandhurst as making a lasting impression on them personally and professionally. He said the chance for them to interact with a diverse group of future military leaders prepares them for the future.
"This competition brings out the best in them, and it brings out things within them they didn't know they had," Wingate said. "As they start to compete against their fellow comrades from different countries like Chile, Argentina, everywhere, they get to find out what their intestinal fortitude is within them.
"It brings a whole lot of friendships that will develop as they get commissioned and go to be future officers. This is what makes our Army strong and what makes us have better Cadets."
While events posted widespread challenges, the course's terrain proved trickiest for teams like the University of North Dakota.
Living in flat lands and without a similar wooded environment to New York's Hudson River Valley, Cadets spent weeks inventing ways to ready themselves to tackle the varied elevations of West Point.
They ran the sloping floors of parking garages. They walked on treadmills while fluctuating the incline levels. They tied a single-rope bridge between two anchors inside the local National Guard Amory to mimic crossing an imaginary stream.
Still, after close to seven hours trekking across the uneven footing of a course that snaked through woods and hills for several miles, Cadets' legs were sore, their ankles ached and their feet were tired.
"I'm exhausted," North Dakota's squad leader, Andrew Petefish, said afterward. "We weren't able to run the steep stuff, so we walked and ran the flat and downhill portions."
North Dakota also was among a handful of ROTC teams that were part of last year's competition field. All eight ROTC entries earned Sandhurst berths by winning their respective brigade's Ranger Challenge competitions.
Despite returning for the third straight year, Petefish, who has been part of all three of those squads, said experience isn't necessarily an advantage at Sandhurst. Because the criteria and procedures of each graded station -- along with some completely new events -- change each year, there's no real way to know exactly what to train for.
"They throw in things you aren't expecting," Petefish said. "You have to be ready to think on your feet. That's the main thing we're looking for. Take it seriously, but at the same time let's just have fun."