Blustery, chilly, frozen conditions with snowflakes occasionally falling from the sky welcomed the cadet teams preparing for the onslaught of tasks that came with earning the right to get to the spring Sandhurst Competition.
The Fall Sandhurst Competition on Friday and Saturday was a battle among 39 teams, including all 36 cadet companies, two brigade teams and one U.S. Military Academy Preparatory School team around West Point and the USMA training areas. The competition determined which 12 teams would earn the USMA spots in the annual Sandhurst Military Skills Competition that takes place at USMA in the spring.
An event devised by the Brigade Tactical Department and the Department of Military Instruction, Sandhurst, which began in 1967, is the world’s premier international academy military skills competition that inspires excellence through rigorous physical and mental challenges that reflect the tempo, uncertainty and tasks of combat operations.
The fall competition involved nine events that tested the cadets’ ability to shoot, move, communicate and lead while also focusing on the physical, mental toughness and agility that they need to think rapidly and adapt in all situations to succeed.
“The Sandhurst Competition is a grueling two-day event where squads are pushed to their limits. The additional challenge of weather was one we were prepared for but added an element that makes even the smallest task difficult,” Maj. Seth Reed, Company C-1 tactical officer and the Fall Sandhurst brigade officer-in-charge. “The cadets woke up on Saturday morning to frosted weapons and frozen canteens, knowing that even greater challenges were ahead.
“However, I did not hear a single cadet complain about the conditions or the impact the inclement weather had on the competition,” Reed added. “Rather, they embraced it for the challenge it was and used it to bring their teams closer and even more cohesive.”
There were 11 events scheduled for Sandhurst, but two were dropped for safety reasons. Therefore, the nine events the cadets competed in included the M4 Qualification Range, Warrior Tasks and Drills, Team Event Challenge, Land Navigation, Cognitive Challenge, Squad React to Contact, Call for Fire, One-Rope Bridge and Functional Fitness. Sandhurst also includes timed ruck march movements to each event and timed events that all add up to the final scores.
While most of the events are self-explanatory, three events that Reed explained a little further about were the Warrior Tasks and Drills, the Team Event Challenge and the Cognitive Challenge.
Reed mentioned that Warrior Tasks and Drills is typically a very static and individualized event where competitors execute the assembly and disassembly of the M4, M249 and the M240 in a prescribed amount of time.
“During the competition, we made it kinetic by keeping the assembly and disassembly of the weapons, but we conducted it as a relay,” Reed said. “Teams conducted bear crawls to a station, executed the tasks at that station and then moved to the next one. The event was timed and teams could have their time reduced by executing a grenade toss into a designated target area.”
Reed said the Team Event Challenge was designed to evaluate the cohesiveness of each squad. He said they made a concerted effort to ensure the best scores would be from the squads who truly operated as teams. The event included tire flips, a High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV) push/pull and log squats.
“The log squats required members to be in sync to avoid one side going down too fast or slow,” Reed said. “The HMMWV pull required all members to work together in unison to build momentum and the lengths of tire flips ensured all members would need to flip multiple times to score well.”
The Cognitive Challenge, Reed explained, occurred multiple times throughout the competition and it was a measure of the squad’s ability to communicate effectively.
“The squad leaders were given an opportunity before their teams stepped off to observe a series of patterns,” Reed said. “They had to communicate what they saw to their squad and on Day 2 squad members were selected at random to replicate the pattern their squad leader reported to them.”
The competition offered many trials and tribulations outside of the actual performance of the tasks themselves. Still, the difficult circumstances provided by the weather was counterbalanced by the cadets’ enthusiasm and their companies’ support.
“Day 2 was exponentially more difficult as cadets woke up at (6 a.m.) to pack their rucks, many of which were frozen, to move out to land navigation,” Reed said. “Perhaps, the most difficult event was the functional fitness, which was the last major event the squads completed.
“However, for many of the squads, this difficulty was offset by the exceptional turn out from their peers in an effort to encourage them to the finish,” Reed added. “Cadet spectators brought out signs, flags, bullhorns, mascots and everything imaginable to let their teams know they were appreciated. It was quite a sight to see.”
Ultimately, the true warriors of the two-day event were the participants of the 39 teams. Each team trains with 13 members, but only 11 participate on the days of the events where some events require 11 or nine members to perform a task or function.
Prior to participating Friday and Saturday, teams worked for more than two months to get ready for these two days.
“The (Company) E-4 team has been training for the Fall Sandhurst Competition since mid-August,” Class of 2023 Cadet Andrew Dawson, Company E-4 Sandhurst team member, said. “Our preparation was largely focused on strength and conditioning, and it paid off during the competition. We don’t know the results yet, but I truly believe that the amount of effort we put into training for this competition will be reflected in our scores.”
During the training portion, the teams didn’t generally have to deal with the weather element from the cold aspect as opposed to the warmer weather during August and September, but that didn’t deter them from overcoming that circumstance.
“Every team at West Point trains under the same conditions, so we all had to adapt to the cold weather,” Dawson said. “E-4 was still able to perform well under the conditions because we were all focused on succeeding no matter what. E-4, historically, has not had the best team so we were eager to change that reputation this year.
“To a certain extent, the snowy conditions on the first night and waking up to frost all over our equipment on Saturday morning were quite motivating. I think that it elevated the enthusiasm on our team just because of how ridiculous the conditions were,” Dawson added. “It definitely builds confidence in yourself and in your teammates.”
Through the nine events that his squad participated in, they faced strong and weak points as they performed each task.
“I believe that E-4 did very well in land navigation, react to contact and our ruck times,” Dawson said. “The timed ruck movements consisted of a timed three-mile ruck on the first day and a one-mile ruck on the second day. However, originally, the competition had additional timed rucks planned but the snowy conditions forced the cadets in charge of the competition to make some changes.”
The event Dawson felt gave his squad the most concern was the shooting lane, or M4 Qualification Range.
“This year, the lane was completed by all 11 squad members, each of whom had to complete a new M4A1 rifle qualification,” he said. “What helped is the lowest score from the group was dropped, so only 10 squad members ended up being counted.”
In the end, while the results are still being tabulated and then will be provided to the Corps of Cadets today during a Corps dinner, the excitement builds in Dawson for the chance to continue in the spring.
“I believe our team did very well,” Dawson said. “We would love the opportunity to continue on to the spring competition and continue to train together.”
And with that, it would allow Dawson and his E-4 teammates as well as the other 11 teams that go on to the spring Sandhurst Competition to continue their work of becoming better Soldiers, officers and leaders.
“Sandhurst is one of the few ways that cadets are able to conduct any type of military training during the academic year,” Dawson said. “It also promotes a high level of fitness that I, personally, believe all leaders and officers in the Army should strive to possess. Each team’s squad leader had the opportunity to practice their leadership skills and each squad member had the opportunity to improve their military skills.
“While it certainly is not the deciding factor on which cadets become capable leaders and officers in the Army,” he concluded. “I believe that it helps.”
Reed agrees with Dawson’s sentiments on Sandhurst being a help for those participating toward their Army futures and added, “Through their train-up in preparation and the competition, they have executed multiple M4 ranges, land navigation, countless miles of ruck marching, warrior tasks and drills and a number of other tactical and technical tasks that their Soldiers will expect them to be proficient at when they arrive as second lieutenants. They have experienced first-hand what it takes to build a cohesive squad and gained a first-hand appreciation for the importance of communicating and team building.”
Overall, Reed was impressed with what he saw through the two days and the incredible enthusiasm and ability to adapt from everyone who participated.
“It is difficult to put into words how incredibly proud I was of the competitors resolve and resilience,” Reed said. “As the first teams stepped off in the falling snow, I wondered how the inclement weather was going to impact the cadets’ motivation and desire.
“The enthusiasm and determination I witnessed demonstrated just how important performing at a high level is to these future platoon leaders,” Reed concluded. “We are an all-weather Army, and it was clear we are producing officers that will require a lot more than cold weather to stop them from winning.”