The annual Sandhurst Military Skills Competition takes place at the U.S. Military Academy Friday and Saturday. The competition has undergone multiple changes since it started in 1967 and in its current form is a two-day competition featuring teams from West Point, ROTC as well as other foreign and domestic military academies. Here is what you need to know before the competition starts:
1. All in the name
While it is called the Sandhurst Military Skills Competition after the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in the United Kingdom, the annual competition has always been held at West Point. Sandhurst was started in 1967 when RMAS presented West Point with a British Officer's sword to use as the prize for a competition to promote military excellence.
It wasn't until 1975 that the competition began to resemble its current form with teams taking part in different challenges to test their military skills. Sandhurst was only an internal West Point competition until 1992 when ROTC teams began competing. Then, in 1993, RMAS began taking part annually. The Royal Military College of Canada joined in 1997 and since 2002 the competition has featured a diverse group of international teams as well as the Naval, Coast Guard and Air Force academies and ROTC teams from throughout the country.
2. Winning it for the Queen
West Point dominated Sandhurst for the first three decades winning every single year from 1967 through 1992. That streak was broken in 1993, the first year a non-West Point team competed, when the British team came from across the pond to finally win a military battle along the Hudson River.
For the next 16 years the competition was dominated by members of The Commonwealth capturing the title in the name of Queen Elizabeth II as RMAS won from 1993 to 2004 and the Royal Military College of Canada won from 2005-07.
RMAS and RMC-Canada went back and forth for a couple years before the plucky upstarts from West Point company B-3 finally broke through in 2011 breaking the queen's reign over the competition.
Not to be outdone, the Royal Military College of Australia - Duntroon claimed the title in 2012 bringing honor back to the crown. The Commonwealth would hold the title through 2016 with RMAS and RMC-Canada winning the titles.
West Point finally won again in 2017, but its hold on the title was short lived when tragedy befell the competition in 2018 and in a twist that none expected, the U.S. Air Force Academy fought their way to victory in a competition that tests ground combat skills.
3. An international flair
Air Force may have broken through last year and become the first non-West Point or Commonwealth team to take home the title from Sandhurst, but the defending champions will face a global challenge if they hope to fly home with the title once again.
Fourteen international teams from 13 countries are competing in Sandhurst this year with two teams from RMAS taking part. Eleven of the countries are repeat competitors, but they will face new competition this year as the Royal Danish Military Academy and the Hellenic Military Academy from Greece field teams for the first time.
4. Double the trouble
Although it has led to only two wins since 1993, West Point has annually had a decided advantage in the competition each year. The home team, which still has the most wins overall thanks to victories every year from 1967-1992, has familiarity with the location and also fielded a team from every cadet company giving West Point more than 30 teams in the competition annually.
This year to make room for more visiting competitors, only 12 company teams are taking part along with club teams USMA Black, Gold and Gray (more on them later). The 12 company teams were selected following a fall qualifier that pitted the 36 companies head-to-head. To fill the void left by West Point lowering its number of teams, the number of ROTC teams has been doubled from eight to 16 with two teams from each Cadet Command Brigade.
An ROTC team has never won the title, but the University of North Georgia has its sights set on being the first after coming in fourth last season.
5. The long gray line
Better known for their exploits on the field and in the pool, Corps Squad athletes have decided to switch out their swimsuits for camo and put down their footballs and soccer balls to pick up a ruck and an M4/M16 to compete in Sandhurst.
The West Point Gray team includes athletes from the Sprint Football, Women's Soccer and Swim teams who are taking advantage of their offseason to have fun rucking 30 miles through the woods and testing themselves to the point of exhaustion through a series of obstacles.
6. Girl power
West Point first admitted women to the academy in 1976 and since 1986 each team competing in Sandhurst has been required to be co-gender with at least one female on the team. The rule applies to West Point and visiting teams.
The rule even applied to teams from the National Military Academy of Afghanistan when they competed in years past. Because there are no women in the NMAA, a female West Point cadet would compete on the Afghan team each year.
7. A plaque that is actually a sword
After fighting through two days of obstacles and lugging their rucks, which must weigh a minimum of 35 lbs., for approximately 30 miles, one team will be crowned the Sandhurst champion Saturday evening. The winner is chosen based on performance at each of the obstacles as well as the speed with which they complete them.
The champion will be awarded the Reginald E. Johnson Memorial Plaque, named for a Sandhurst competitor who died during the land navigation phase in 1980. Although it is called a plaque, the award follows the initial tradition of the competition and is a mounted cadet saber. The saber has been used as the award since 1999.
There are separate awards for the top ROTC team, top international team and top squad leader.