WEST POINT, N.Y. — Cadets from across the globe crossed the finish line of the annual Sandhurst Competition in front of Washington Hall at the United States Military Academy at West Point, NY, April 8, 2017 amidst a cheering crowd of family, friends, and supporting military members. During Sandhurst, 62 teams representing 12 international military academies, four U.S. service academies and eight Reserve Officers Training Corps programs competed in 11 events throughout a 23-mile course over the course of two days.
What has been, for some of these cadets, a year long process of training and preparation culminated in the two day competition April 7 to 8, where teams competed in multiple events that tested their abilities in basic soldiers skills and leadership ability. International teams from as far away as Thailand and Australia also competed on the event.
“Sandhurst is an annual international military skills competition held here at West Point,” said U.S. Army Cadet Colin Cooley, a cadet at West Point from Orlando, FL and a volunteer at the medical evaluation event during the competition. “There are multiple lanes that different cadets from around the world go through. At West Point, there are 38 teams, one for each company, and two corps wide teams, ROTC teams from across the country and international teams all competing.”
Playing key roles in the event were U.S. Army Reserve Soldiers from the 3rd training battalion, 304th regiment, out of Saco, ME. The Reserve Soldiers have been supporting the Sandhurst competition for the last eight years according to U.S. Army Reserve Sgt. 1st Class Jonathan Parks from the 3/304th who was at the competition as a liaison between the Department of Military Instruction and the 25 soldiers supporting the event from his unit.
Initially, the Reserve component was only supporting the external train-up prior to the actual competition, said Parks. This involved bringing the outside teams up to speed with the teams from West Point. The Reserve Soldiers did not play an active role in the competition itself. In 2016, the DMI requested that the Reservist participate in a more active capacity by staying the days of Sandhurst and taking on a role as safety support for each event, according to Parks.
“This year, we actually took another step in solidifying our place here at West Point,” said Parks. “They asked us to be evaluators for the squad leaders.” In this role, while the cadets were grading the performance of the event, the Reserve Soldiers were observing the squad leaders and evaluating their ability to give proper direction and follow troop leading procedures within their squads, said Parks.
The significance of Reserve Soldiers supporting the Sandhurst competition was observed by U.S. Army Reserve Sgt. Linda Dubois from the 3/304th who was an evaluator the medical evaluation event during the Sandhurst competition.
“What we interject here, is the ability to have non-commissioned officers who aren’t west pointers,” said Dubois. The non-commissioned officers are able to train the cadets to a proper military standard, without interrupting their normal training environment, said Dubois.
The Army Reserve soldiers supporting the event bring with them the knowledge and experience from an enlisted perspective that most cadets may not have regular exposure to, said Parks. “The cadets in this competition are truly motivated,” said Parks. “They’re like sponges. They listen to every word we say, they’re engaging us in conversation, they want to know what it’s like after they graduate.”
Additionally, the opportunity to return each year gives the Reserve Soldiers a better understanding of how to train the cadets, not only in preparation for the competition, but also in preparation for a future in the military, said Parks.
“Us coming out here to Sandhurst allows our trainers to complete our mission by giving us the opportunity to deal with these cadets in a training environment,” said Parks. They train the cadets on skill level one tasks from the Soldier’s handbook. Oftentimes, they train foreign soldiers who have had little to no contact with U.S. military equipment or knowledge on how U.S. military facilities are run. The goal is to have all the cadets able to perform those tasks just like a West Point cadet, said Parks.
Parks believes that overall, the Reserve Soldiers that support the event recognize the positive impact they have on the teams that compete. They all seem to maintain bold confidence in the future of the military, said Parks.
“It’s nice to come back and see them in their sophomore and junior years and see how much they’ve changed in such a short period of time,” said Dubois. “It’s a great opportunity for us to watch that growth in them.”
“Seeing the cadets perform in this competition definitely puts a lot of hope in our future,” said Parks. “We see a lot of highly motivated cadets that are just wanting to learn and perform the best they can for their particular country or school.”
The USMA Black team from West Point took first place at the end of the Sandhurst competition, beating a winning streak largely dominated by British and Canadian teams. However, all the cadets that participated and all of the Army Reserve Soldiers that supported, left with a rewarding and positive experience.