WEST POINT, N.Y., April 19, 2011 -- For the first time since 1993, a West Point squad secured the victory over its international rivals at the 45th annual Sandhurst Military Skills Competition, here.
After months of training dedicated to bringing the top award back home, the Company B-3 Squad claimed the coveted Reginald E. Johnson Memorial Plaque as the competition's highest-scoring team.
The 45th iteration of Sandhurst, held April 15-16, 2011, at Camp Buckner, here, gathered 50 teams representing U.S. and international service academies, ROTC programs and the U.S. Military Academy Preparatory School. For the past 17 years, the top honor went to either a Royal Military Academy Sandhurst (UK) squad or a Royal Military College of Canada squad.
It was certainly a "Miracle on Ice" moment, said the B-3 squad leader, referring to when the U.S. defeated the Soviets in ice hockey during the 1980 Winter Olympics.
"It honestly feels like that," Class of 2011 Cadet Marcus Fowler said. "Before we started Saturday, I gave the team one last pep talk. I told them no American team has won in almost two decades."
After finishing fourth in the marksmanship portion, Fowler wanted to capitalize on that momentum going into the second day of competition.
"I told them to visualize standing on stage holding the trophy and having the crowd chant, 'U.S.A., U.S.A.' and that's exactly what happened."
It seems that with only a month until graduation, this B-3 team has set the standard for future Corps of Cadet squads who will compete in Sandhurst in the coming years.
"The overall team dynamic was incredible," said Fowler, who competed all four years at West Point. "We knew each other's strengths and weaknesses so well there were no tasks we couldn't accomplish together."
Class of 2011 Cadet Joshua Kreiter said the reality of victory is still coming through in waves.
"I am still in disbelief about the whole thing," Krieter said. "I knew our team had a great chance and did extremely well on the course, but I guess I never really thought about what it would be like if we actually won the competition."
Like Fowler, Krieter is proud to have won this not only for the Corps of Cadets, but for the other U.S. service academies represented.
"I am honored to have worked with the other Bandits on the team and I couldn't imagine it with any other group of people," Krieter said. "The support the B-3 Company gave us as a whole was incredible. Every time we completed a site and ran to the next, it was great, and enormously motivational, to see the sea of neon green hats that our company wears."
Fourth Regiment reclaimed the Sandhurst Trophy as the USCC regiment with the highest aggregate score among its company teams. Last year, the prize went to 1st Regiment, but 4th Regiment held bragging rights from 2004-2009 as best regiment.
The squad also placed second overall behind the B-3 Squad. Along with contributing to 4th Regiment's trophy win, the F-4 Squad earned a Sandhurst Patch, awarded to members of the five highest-placing squads, and a Sandhurst Streamer, which went to each highest-placing company team from each regiment.
Class of 2011 Cadet Hans Kobor said being the F-4 squad leader has been one of his most rewarding experiences at West Point.
"The best part about it was the close-knit nature of my team," Kobor said. "We all had a blast being around each other and pushed each other to our limits. I've never felt closer to a group of people and it was simply an amazing leadership experience."
This was his third year competing, and he said the camaraderie among the "Frogs" has been a crucial component every time. The future infantry officer said the team excelled through the obstacles course, finishing without incurring any time penalties.
"What makes this so impressive to me is that the commandant was talking with one of the parents on the team as we came upon the event and told him 'the obstacle course is designed to be impossible to finish. The teams will have to decide which obstacle to go over because they can't get them all.'"
More than capable on the obstacles, the F-4 Squad was momentarily stumped by the logistics of The Wall. With eight members wearing blindfold goggles, only one could see teammates in action and communicate directions to them. The objective was to negotiate the entire squad and eight sandbags from a pallet on one side of the wall over to a pallet on the other side without allowing the bags to touch the wall or ground.
"We were stumped," Kobor said. "It took us over a minute to think up a very rudimentary plan."
The squad opted to have Kobor carry all the bags over the wall, while the blinded members assisted each other over the top.
"It turns out sandbags are heavier than they look," Kobor said. "By the time I'd taken five of them over, I was pretty smoked."
Finishing fourth overall and earning the Marksmanship Streamer for highest scoring team on the range was the A-2 Squad. The F-2 Squad finished ninth overall and was ranked seventh among teams from the Corps of Cadets. Class of 2011 Cadet Michael Beck, F-2 Squad leader, served as an alternate his first two years at the academy before becoming an active squad member last year.
"I came to the academy to become the best combat leader I could be, and I saw Sandhurst as the best way to train military skills," Beck said. "I kept entering Sandhurst because of the close camaraderie on the team."
Beck said his team was viewed as a group of underdogs because it lacked Sandhurst experience; a majority of the team was from the Class of 2014 and 2013. But through months of training, Beck said they grew into a family.
"F-2 consistently performed well in the regimental competitions," Beck said. "Our team had outstanding cohesion. We could work together and solve any problem just as easily as other teams with more experienced members."
Class of 2011 Cadet Kyle Volle, a member of the A-3 Sandhurst team, said participating in Sandhurst is perhaps the most relevant activity available for a cadet to prepare as a future platoon leader.
"The training is awesome and is directly applicable to the things required of me as an infantry platoon leader," Volle said. "In addition, I love the camaraderie, the teamwork and the great experiences we get to partake in during the semester."
The A-3 Squad finished 14th among the 50 teams competing this year.
"I feel our team did great overall. We experienced a few hiccups, but ultimately executed every site just as we planned," Volle said. "Now that it's over, I think I'll mostly remember the team. You learn a lot about yourself through others, and I think that's what makes Sandhurst so awesome. Regardless of the outcome, those are the people that ultimately sacrificed for you, for the company, for the regiment and for USMA."
To be a member of the winning team his first time competing was a thrill for Class of 2013 Cadet Christopher Miller. The team not only claimed the top award, but also a Sandhurst Streamer and Badge.
"There were a lot of morning practices that I did not want to go to, but I felt like I owed it to the other guys on the team," Miller said. "We practiced every day with each other during the week, and sometimes on the weekends. We ate breakfast, lunch and dinner as a team."
"I've carried each one of those guys up a hill or two on my back," Miller explained. "Being together so much as a team created a special bond between us all that I will never forget. I can't wait to see what all of them are going to be doing in five, 10 and 20 years."
Complete team placings and competition results are available on the Department of Military Instruction website at www.usma.edu/dmi/sandhurst_competition.htm. Sandhurst Competition photos are available at www.flickr.com/photos/west_point/sets/.