By Rachael Tolliver, U.S. Army Cadet CommandApril 17, 2014
FORT KNOX, Ky. (April 17, 2014) -- Cadets from all over the world recently came together to see who was the best of the best at the 2014 Sandhurst Military Skills Competition.
The competition, held April 11-12, at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point N.Y., hosted 57 teams of Cadets of a variety of services, including eight Army ROTC teams.
This year, Texas A&M ROTC placed second overall, right behind the British Royal Sandhurst Blue team. Penn State finished second and Minnesota's Saint John's University captured third in the ROTC division.
While it was a tough and grueling competition, the opportunity to learn from each other, refine skills and practice leadership was the bottom line for many competing teams.
Capt. Stuart Warders, sophomore advisor and Penn State team coach, said that leadership was one of the reasons they did well last year and stayed in the fight this year. He said the more experienced Cadets helped train the new Cadets which allowed them to hone their leadership skills.
Cadet Kirill Zemlyanskiy, the team's squad leader, said that by training replacements the team has qualified teammates to step-up and gives Cadets additional leadership experience. He added that being on the Penn State Ranger Challenge team takes hard work and dedication but most important is communication.
"We train from 5:30 a.m. to 7 a.m. daily, and some weekends. Then we go to school, and do regular college things too," he said. "As a team it is important for us to work together, and when planning things out, I try to make sure everyone gets all the information."
But there are also lessons to be learned from those performances in which teams don't do well.
Cadet Codey Paulsen, a law and justice major from Central Washington University, described himself as a fun-loving personable leader, who gets to know each person on his team. He said he can relate to every single member because even though they don't have the same personalities, they all get along and he tries to see the differences, strengths and weaknesses in everybody.
"As a leader I need to know when my team is burned out, and stressed and can't handle anymore and when I need to lighten the load and have fun again," he said.
But his team's performance at this year's Sandhurst was not only a test of his leadership, but a test of their resolve as a team.
"At the end of day one we didn't do as well as we would've hoped. We made a lot of mistakes, and one thing we need to improve on as a team is listening," Paulsen explained.
He said they missed instructions and forgot certain rules. At the end of the day he said they were beat up about their performance and morale was low because and had gotten penalties, "for simply not listening."
"That night we all hung out, relaxed and I tried to have a little fun and lighten the mood and raise everyone's morale and by the second day they were motivated to do well," he said. "I shifted my strategy and instead of giving them all the info on a certain mission or task, I would skip to the rules I knew we would mess up. As a team we need to focus on listening and finer details."
On day two, his CWU team had a new attitude and an eye on what was still left to do. They started performing well enough to qualify for silver on one event and gold on another. A gold event meant that the team beat the recommended time for each event with the fastest time and CWU scored at the top on the "weapons assembly with protective masks on," which gave them extra points.
"We had trained quite a bit on that one because we had a sense we would see it in the competition," he explained.
But day two threw them another challenge: they got disoriented and had to spend too much time finding their way to the correct event. Paulsen said the lesson he learned from getting lost was that when the team was frustrated he needed to have faith in himself and his plan.
Paulsen explained this was only the second time his team had competed at Sandhurst, and that each time provides invaluable experience for the team. Next year's team can apply lessons learned and come back to do really well.
But he said the lessons he would pass on included those about managing the team and the pace of movement because as a leader he knows people are going to break down. He added that managing resources such as water and food, and getting the team to listen to the finer details was also important.
"Lastly, we need to be that leader that tells people to do things they don't necessarily want to do. You need to find a balance between being a strict leader and being someone who is laid back and relaxed," he explained. "There are things you have to do that (stink) but it's important to get your team to want to do things for you even though they (stink) -- to work hard for you and accomplish a mission because they trust and respect you."