By Mike Strasser, U.S. Military Academy Public AffairsJanuary 30, 2013
WEST POINT, N.Y. (Jan. 31, 2013) -- Its metal column is a portion of a historic U.S. Military Academy cannon. The wood is from the original memorial staircase found in the Royal Military College of Canada's Mackenize Building.
The trophy represents a perfect melding of two countries' military academies just as the annual exchange reinforces the mutual bonds of fellowship and respect--one which began 90 years ago.
The coveted Debate Trophy was in contention Jan. 26 inside the Haig Room as two teams, armed with persuasive argument and convincing rhetoric, demonstrated their skills before an international audience in one of several contests highlighting the USMA-RMC Exchange Weekend.
Ultimately, the home team reclaimed the trophy from the defending titleholders. In a Canadian parliamentary-style debate, Class of 2013 Cadet Nathan Mayo and Class of 2015 Cadet Ken Voet represented the "honorable opposition" against the government team of Officer Cadets Matthew Clancey and Nicholas Huxter from RMC.
In dispute was whether the military's main battle tank is obsolete, and Mayo, an economics major and future Armor officer, found himself defending his own profession.
"Part of the element of this style of debate is learning to deal with a number of things you're not comfortable with," Mayo said. "I may not know anything about a topic but it's still fun to engage.
So when I get a topic like this which is sort of in my lane, that's the most fun of all."
This was Mayo's third time debating against RMC, and his second win. A four-year member of the parliamentary debate team, within the West Point Speech Club, he also serves as cadet in charge.
The team competes mostly off post, and Mayo said it was a fun opportunity to demonstrate at home the hard work in preparing cadets with a skill he finds extremely useful. He credits his own speaking abilities not as innate but developed through practice with the Speech Club.
"It's the way in which we get to practice and continually put ourselves out there and feel uncomfortable, but always get better and better," Mayo said. "All the credit in this case goes to our institution and it's certainly a lot of fun as a cadet in charge to get to run it, and have a win to show for it."
As one of the few seniors on the team, Mayo said it is rewarding to see the younger varsity members like Voet develop their style and rise to the occasion.
Voet, a systems engineering major, has been on the team for two years, but has accumulated six years' debating experience.
"I would definitely call this one of the highlights of my debate career, because on this level, and against an international team with so much history, it was very meaningful," Voet said.
The first debate trophy was awarded in 1952 and was won by USMA cadets, beginning a time-honored rivalry only surpassed by the annual USMA-RMC hockey game.
Huxter, the RMC Debate team president, taking in the panoramic view of West Point from the sixth floor of Jefferson Hall, said the experience has been remarkable and Class of 2016 Cadet Justin Stacy was an excellent host.
"This has been interesting, really. West Point is very different but different in good ways," Huxter said.
Huxter, from Toronto, is majoring in history with a minor in French. As an infantry officer, Huxter hopes to serve as a paratrooper. His teammate Clancey is a civil engineer from Nova Scotia in his first year on the debate team. In his second year at RMC, he previously served three years as a combat engineer noncommissioned officer in the reserves and is training to be a construction engineering officer.
Cadets at West Point can be distinguished by class year or more frequently by slang--like plebe or firstie. At the Canadian academy, the officer cadet can be identified by digits, like West Point's Cullum number. Huxter's college number is 26405, which means that upon graduation he will be the 26,405th graduate of the academy.
The debate's judging panel included Col. Maritza Ryan and Col. Mark Toole, from the USMA Department of Law, and RMC Dean of Engineering Philip J. Bates. Ryan described the debate style as intellectual fisticuffs equivalent to a verbal hockey game.
"If you have not seen it, hold onto your seats," Ryan told the audience. "It's amazing speed, accuracy, humor and, of course, style."
In Canadian parliamentary debate, the two teams were given no prior notice of the topic and only 15 minutes to formalize a strategy. As chief judge, Bates chose the subject after much deliberation the night before.
"I was looking for something that had a military flair, a technical flair and something that I'm interested in," Bates said. "It was a fun debate, both teams were very animated and it was fun to watch. I thought there were a lot of good arguments made on both sides."
After the debate, participants gathered at Robinson Auditorium for a joint Pipes and Drums demonstration followed by an awards presentation. USMA cadets also earned wins in water polo and the chess competition.
By evening's end, West Point made a clean sweep of the competitions after a 4-1 win at Tate Rink between the Army Black Knights and the RMC Paladins for the Challenger Trophy.
Competition aside, the grander message of this exchange--and one both commandants expressed to cadets--was the longstanding friendship forged between the two academies as geographic neighbors and military allies.
Brigadier-General Eric Tremblay, the RMC commandant, said he felt energized after observing a day full of activity and competition and it provoked many thoughts about how military academies serve their countries.
"Overall what matters through these exchanges is who we get to know, what we get to see and understand and what we do with that information in the future," Tremblay said. "Having served under the Canadian flag and the U.S. flag in combat, I can tell you those relationships do matter. I am very honored to be here with you to celebrate the relationship between West Point and RMC which dates back to 1923 when some former generals decided it was the right thing to do after the first World War. To reunite some of those men at the time and to celebrate that friendship that has been over time and time again tested and mutually put together on the battle space to make a difference."
Commandant of Cadets Brig. Gen. Richard Clarke also spoke of the partnership between the two academies and how developing those relationships as students will better serve them later as officers in their respective forces.
"We're having fun here today but tomorrow we could be in some other country in some other place next to each other and that's really at the end of the day what this is all about," Clarke said. "We build these relationships here and they could last lifetimes. If nothing else we get that opportunity to understand each other a little bit better and realize we are in this together as our closest neighbor to the north."
In Kingston, Ontario, a contingent of USMA cadets participated in the exchange at the Royal Military Academy. A dinner introduced the Canadian academy to cadets, highlighting the history, similarities and differences.
During a social hour, cadets and their hosts donned plastic inflatable sumo wrestling suits for fun competition. They also participated in Winter Games to include tug-of-war, dodgeball, floor hockey, American football and a relay race.
Voet, the Speech Team treasurer, was unable to travel last year to the Royal Military College so this was his first time participating at West Point as both host and competitor.
"I think this is an incredible opportunity to get to know people who are going to be your partners-in-arms," Voet said. "I think it was a great experience to be able to work with them this week. I won't remember so much what I said in the debate in a couple of years but I will remember how much I enjoyed the company and the spirit of debate with my friends from RMC."