WEST POINT, N.Y. -- For two days, teams from throughout the world will be put to the ultimate test of endurance, leadership and military skill as they compete to earn the title of Sandhurst champion.
Sandhurst was first held in 1967 and in the years since has grown from an internal U.S. Military Academy competition to one including teams from throughout the world. This year's competition will be held April 12-13 with teams testing their military skills through a series of grueling obstacles.
Until this year, the competition had included a team from each of West Point's 36 companies, but a fall competition was used to select the top 12 company teams to compete in Sandhurst next weekend. West Point cadets will also compete on the Black and Gold team, which includes the varsity level Black squad and junior varsity Gold squad, as well as the Silver team made up of corps squad athletes.
There will also be a team made up of cadet candidates from the U.S. Military Academy Preparatory School.
In all, 49 teams will be competing including 13 international teams, 16 Reserve Officers' Training Corps teams from American universities and teams from the Air Force, Navy and Coast Guard academies.
Teams train for months to prepare for the challenge which requires 11-person teams, nine competitors and two alternates, to carry a minimum of 35 pounds throughout the course, which Maj. Travis Onischuk, officer-in-charge and lead planner for Sandhurst, said, will likely exceed last year's 28-mile route.
"The most difficult part about preparing for the competition is balancing the physical, and tactical requirements," Class of 2020 Cadet Daniel Archer, Company C-3 squad leader, said. "The competition will test squads on functional fitness, ruck marching ability as well as a myriad of tactical tasks so it is a constant challenge to balance these training requirements in our limited available time."
The competition itself starts April 12, but the teams will be spending the week at West Point taking part in the Modern War Institute's Sandhurst Conference and training for the competition. This year will also be the first time the teams are competing in a relay race to determine their start times for the first day of the competition.
"Teams will compete in what we are calling an order of march relay race," Onischuk said. "Each squad leader selects the three fastest members of their team to compete in a relay race. It will generate a rank of 1-49, and those teams will then be able to select their starting positions for Friday."
The relay race follows a 4.5-mile course starting at Buffalo Soldier Field, winding through post with baton passes at Michie Stadium and Keller Hospital and then ending at Quarters 100 alongside The Plain. The order of finish will determine a draft order for teams to select their start time.
"We have gone out of our way to publish the route and the information to the external teams," Onischuk said. "We have advised them to conduct a reconnaissance of the route when they get here. We are being pretty transparent so we can, to the greatest extent, equalize any familiarity cadets might have to the terrain here. We think it is going to be pretty high drama."
The race will take place Monday afternoon, following the Sandhurst Conference. The conference, which has been a part of Sandhurst since 2016, will include guest speakers and breakout sessions to teach competitors about Army tactics and strategy.
The external teams will have the chance to spend the rest of the week going through training to prepare for the competition. While the actual, nor even the number of, obstacles will be made available to the teams, the training is designed to help them prepare for what they will face.
"We are sponsoring the training and resourcing it, but they are executing their own training plans," Onischuk said. "Given the ambition to make the competition as level as possible between West Point cadets and our external teams, we go out of our way to make sure they are resourced well and have the appropriate time to reach a level of competence that is going to set them up for success."
Friday morning, the teams will set off in 25-minute intervals starting at 6:30 a.m. with four teams stepping off from in front of Quarters 100 in each window. That will begin a competition that stretches through the night and will finish Saturday afternoon.
Last year, the Air Force Academy team claimed its first title with the Royal Military College-Canada, Sandhurst Red, University of North Georgia and West Point Gold rounding out the top five. All five of those teams are back again this year.