Sandhurst continues to exemplify military excellence in competition
Story and photos by Mike Strasser
WEST POINT, N.Y. (April 17, 2014) — The foundation for which the annual Sandhurst Competition is built upon—the four priorities determined by the Department of Military Instruction—begins with leader development.
That was evident long before the competition began. All 36 teams in the Corps of Cadets were responsible for their own training, with the team captains in charge of executing a safe but rigorous regimen throughout a somewhat brutal winter. The Sandhurst cadet command team provided the necessary logistical and operational support to make that training happen, in addition to the 300 cadets who assisted in running the two-day competition.
The preparation proved its worth for the Corps and, really, all 57 teams participating at the 48th annual Sandhurst Military Skills Competition. The new scoring system employed a gold, silver and bronze standard defined by mastery of basic officer tasks, proficiency and entry level understanding, respectively.
“Everybody medaled,” Col. Glenn Goldman, DMI director, said April 12 at the awards ceremony. “Within the Corps of Cadets, that validates our military development program here.”
Still the traditional awards remained in place, and the Reginald E. Johnson Memorial Plaque for the best overall team was presented to the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst’s Blue team. Within the Corps of Cadets, 1st Regiment was named best overall regiment and 16-time recipient of the Sandhurst Trophy. Company H-3 earned the Sandhurst Streamer for best squad. The cadets from Texas A&M were named the best ROTC team and scored second highest overall behind the British team.
“The DMI cadre and I saw a lot of hustle, a lot of skill and a lot of teamwork out there ... we saw the warrior spirit and we saw military excellence,” Goldman said. “But most of all we saw young leaders make decisions and move their Soldiers in the right direction to successfully accomplish tasks.”
Additionally, Goldman thanked the DMI cadre and Maj. Henry Coltart, the British exchange officer, during the awards ceremony for providing guidance and support. Maj. Gen. Stuart Skeates, the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst commandant, credited one of his predecessors for being the first to present West Point with a Sandhurst Trophy in 1967.
“And it has been a succession of equally, if not more, far-sighted commandants of West Point that have turned the simple idea of its original purpose—the pursuit of excellence—which we in the officer training world understand only too well, into a competition,” Skeates said.
The competition, he said, has developed to where a diverse range of nations can build relations while providing an opportunity for its young leaders to showcase their talents.
“The young men and women who I’ve seen competing today have been uniformly outstanding,” Skeates said. “You can all be proud of what you’ve achieved. You are all the very best of your generation. You have proven that the pursuit of excellence is a worthy endeavor.”
It took the combined scores of a regiment’s nine companies to earn the Sandhurst Trophy, and this year the honor was bestowed upon 1st Regiment. Pictured, members of the Co. B-1 team endure the DMI Challenge to aid their regiment to victory.
Class of 2015 Cadet Amy Saxton (far left) was the squad leader for the Co. H-3 team named best among the 36 teams from the Corps of Cadets this year.
Class of 2015 Cadet Amy Saxton is so committed to the principles of teamwork, even after the conclusion of the Sandhurst Competition she didn't want to answer questions without input from her fellow Co. H-3 squad mates.
Saxton, an Economics major (with a Terrorism Studies minor) has been on Sandhurst teams since plebe year and is familiar with what success looks like in this competition as a member of last year's top squad (also Co. H-3).
With three returning members, she served as team captain to retain the title of top squad. How did they get there? Lots of training.
"I held tryouts during the first week of October in order to allow for a six-month training season," Saxton said. "The team practiced twice a day, as early as 0530 in the morning and often right after school until dinnertime. Each member of the team contributed a lot of personal sacrifice and incredible dedication towards winning the competition."
That kind of commitment translated into success from the very start.
"Throughout the competition, we worked incredibly well together," Saxton said. "We were not only cohesive, but more importantly, I could trust anyone on the team to perform tasks with confidence and competence. We were united with a shared purpose to succeed and pushed one another to get there."
On Day One, the squad competed in five events: the M4 rifle range, M9 pistol range, one-rope bridge, land navigation, and tactical casualty combat care (TCCC).
"We had a basic system for the events, but we also had practiced to think under stress and develop contingencies in order to be prepared for any surprises at the sites," Saxton said. "As the leader, I knew the strengths and weaknesses of each of my teammates and was able to delegate tasks quickly and efficiently. I believe that we were successful due to a combination of physical aggression, mental toughness, and the ability to solve problems under stress."
Saxton said a high level of professionalism and discipline could be what seperated this squad from others.
"In the field, I established priorities of work to prepare our equipment for the next day and get maximum rest," she said. "Though the night was cold and rainy, I think that we were better prepared than most to deal with the conditions, which set us up for success the following day. While the weather did not help us, it probably did not set us as far back as many of our competitors."
"Each day, we promoted a culture of working hard and winning," she continued. "Though we had a good model from our success the previous year, we needed to remain flexible in order to be successful for this year's competition, which I knew would be challenging in very different ways."
"Total team effort" is a cliche Saxton avoided, but still admitted that the team couldn't have succeeded without the 11 individuals bonding as they did. No superstars or standouts needed, Saxton said.
"My team was based on more of a collaborative process in which people felt comfortable contributing ideas and everyone eventually bought in to the strategy that we had all developed," she said.
If anything, Saxton wanted the Sandhurst experience to go beyond the two-day competition.
"I truly believe that each person learned valuable life lessons from their experience on the team," she said. "Each improved in their level of physical fitness, military skills, and mental toughness."
"But more than that, I hope that they took away the principles that took us from good to great and that they carry on the same level of commitment and purpose towards their next endeavor, whether they choose to continue to do Sandhurst or not. I hope that the relationships we built this year will remain strong, and that if I see them after I commission, I will always know that I can trust them with any task under any conditions."
(Editor's Note, Aug. 7, 2014): In this interview, Cadet Saxton said being the Co. H-3 squad leader has been the most rewarding and humbling leadership experience she's had at West Point. Since then, she has served as the regimental command sergeant major for the first iteration of Cadet Basic Training. The six stripes she'll wear on her uniform this academic year will signify her position as 3rd Regiment commander.)
The Co. F-1 squad takes on the grenade toss during the 2014 Sandhurst Military Skills Competition.
Final thoughts on Sandhurst
West Point just doesn’t seem the same anymore. Now that the Sandhurst Competition is over, no longer are there dozens of teams running, rucking and tying rope bridges everywhere on post.
The training was so constant and commonplace that it sometimes went unnoticed ... until it no longer exists.
Class of 2014 Cadet Andrew Carlson is going to miss it. Like most of his graduating colleagues, Carlson, the Company H-4 captain, said it isn’t really the competition he’s going to remember.
“I’ll never forget the team and the relationships we’ve built,” Carlson said. “The competition might beat you up a lot, but you leave with a smile because of your team.”
Class of 2014 Cadet Brian Mclaughlin, Co. C-1 captain, said likewise.
“I’m going to remember the team, the great team,” Mclaughlin said. “We worked together so well. Sometimes you see the problem of too many chiefs and not enough indians, but that didn’t happen. All I had to do was give direction and the team made it happen.”
Class of 2014 Cadet Nick Chizek is going to reflect on each team he competed with, from plebe to firstie year.
“It was almost a completely different squad each year, but every one of them made me who I am,” Chizek said.
As the Co. H-1 captain, Chizek said sometimes individual strengths don’t always mesh well as a team, but this year’s squad had a good dynamic.
“You spend five months working toward this one competition, and the final outcome isn’t not about the competition itself. At the end of the day we are all going to become lieutenants, and so it was the training and the team-building.” Chizek said.
No one goes into Sandhurst expecting to lose, so honing that competitive edge is also important to measure success.
“There’s a lot of training value to Sandhurst but you want to win as well,” Chizek said.
As far as the competition itself, Carlson said it was the best yet. He’s competed three times before and served as an alternate his plebe year.
“It was the best representation I’ve seen at Sandhurst of an actual combat patrol. In years past it was timed movements from event to event which turned it more into a marathon essentially,” Carlson said. “We were able to control our pace and focus on the tasks.”
Course speed and time penalties still factored, but Carlson said the competition had more emphasis on soldier skills instead of valuing the fastest team. Leadership was key and teams who did well at each site were the ones who read the FRAGOs carefully and relayed information to each other.
“That was definitely a factor. The best I could do was provide my team a warning order, notify them on what we will have to do and then establish tasks and priorities to everyone,” Mclaughlin said.
Mclaughlin has been a part of Sandhurst all four years at the academy and described the C-1 squad as cohesive, well-trained and ready for a challenge.
“I knew my team’s abilities and we were able to execute,” he said. “But when it’s go time and when times are tough, plans go out the window. We were able to push through it and finish strong, so that’s all I could ask for.”
The Sandhurst Competition is not for everyone, and no doubt there are quite a few who experience it once and never again.
“If they don’t get the most out of it, that’s on them,” Chizek said. “I love it. I have a buddy I’ve run with all four years and he loves it. It helps to have good people with you and that makes all the difference. It’s been a good ride.”
And for those who have yet to compete at Sandhurst, Chizek has some advice.
“Start running, get moving as soon as possible,” Chizek said.
Fifty-seven teams representing U.S. and international military academies and ROTC programs put months of preparation and training to the test during the 48th annual Sandhurst Military Skills Competition April 11-12 at West Point, hosted by the U.S. Military Academy’s Department of Military Instruction. Pictured, a Co. D-4 cadet seals his protective mask and waits to get validated.
Squads are permitted only 11 members to compete in Sandhurst, but some had entourages of cheering fans supporting them throughout the two-day competition.
Sandbags, land mines and other obstacles confront the Company C-2 team as they attempt the Humvee pull, casualty evacuation and combat medical care at one site during the 48th annual Sandhurst Military Skills Competition. They finished as the third highest ranking team from the Corps of Cadets.