Photos by Sgt. 1 st Class Ken Upsall
3-304th Infantry Regiment (USMA), 104th Training Division, 108th Training Command
For two days in April, officer candidates from American universities and military academies around the world rucked, shot, swam, and navigated obstacles, tackling these and other physical and mental challenges during the 2019 Sandhurst Competition at the U.S. Military Academy.
This year’s iteration of the annual competition, which dates back to 1967, featured 49 teams of Cadets, representing USMA and the other American service academies, ROTC programs, and 12 foreign countries.
It’s that diversity that makes the Sandhurst Competition unique, and a particularly engaging mission for the 3-304th Infantry Regiment (USMA), 104th Training Division, 108th Training Command, a U.S. Army Reserve unit that has been supporting the competition for a decade.
As Sgt. 1st Class Ken Upsall noted, there are plenty of competitions that test individual Soldiers or squads in military and leadership skills, but most are limited to one service or one unit.
“Even Army Best Warrior or Army Best Ranger doesn’t have the international flair that the Sandhurst military competition does,” said Upsall, the 3-304th’s assistant non commissioned officer in charge for Sandhurst.
The teams trained for months in advance of Sandhurst, but the two days immediately before the competition were crucial for the 33 teams visiting West Point. Soldiers from the 3-304th spent those days familiarizing the Cadets with West Point’s ranges, weapons systems like the M-4 rifle, and U.S. Army doctrine and standards, in order to minimize home field advantage for the USMA teams.
“Our focus is to ensure that the competitors have the knowledge required in those tasks to be able to complete them,” Upsall said. “We set those teams up for success.”
The 2019 Sandhurst Competition consisted of 13 events, starting with a functional fitness circuit and ending 36 hours later with the “Burden,” where the teams had to shuttle military equipment across the field at USMA’s Michie Stadium. In between, they rucked from one event to the next for a total of 30 miles. The events included firing rifles, pistols, and grenade launchers, performing combat casualty care, and conducting daytime and nighttime land navigation in the wooded, rocky hills of West Point.
Another event was the Zodiac boats, in which the teams had to paddle a rubber boat around a course, receiving simulated enemy fire partway through.
Sgt. 1st Class Robert Seymour, a Senior Trainer in C Company, 3-304th, ran the Zodiac train-up, teaching Cadets how to launch, land, and carry the boats and how to synchronize their rowing. For many of the teams, he said, they had never used that kind of boat.
“A lot of the teams that we had had no training,” he said. “But after an hour, I felt confident that they could be successful out here.”
This was Seymour’s second year at Sandhurst. He said he feels that the 3-304th makes a valuable contribution to the competition, conducting the train-up for all the events with minimal involvement from West Point personnel.
Seymour also said that on a personal level, he enjoys the international aspect of the competition. He lives in Vermont but is also a German resident, and he works with people from foreign countries on a daily basis as an immigration adjudicator.
That sort of synergy between military and civilian experience is a distinctive benefit of involving Army Reserve Soldiers in an event like Sandhurst, Upsall said.
“We get to utilize all of our experience, not only in the Army Reserve doing these skill level one tasks, but we can also apply our civilian job knowledge in order to bring a little extra to the table,” he said.
When 3-304th first picked up the Sandhurst mission a decade ago, only a handful of Soldiers from the unit participated, and their role was limited to the train-up. In 2019, 61 soldiers from the unit assisted, and they continued working through the competition. They were timekeepers and range safeties, and they observed teams to ensure compliance with rules and to evaluate the squad leaders’ performance.
The 3-304th consists largely of NCOs, and they cover the breadth of the Army’s branches: Infantry, Engineers, Medical, and more. That’s a plus considering the range of skills that the cadets must exhibit at Sandhurst, Upsall said.
“We have a very diverse group of personnel who are capable of delivering and exceeding on Army standards,” he said. “[It’s] The training that West Point needs to give to these external teams in order for them to compete safely and effectively.”
The 3-304th also includes younger Soldiers like PV2 Alexis Jones of Mount Laurel, N.J. For her, doing M-4 familiarization with the foreign Cadets was a refresher and reinforcement of her own training not so long ago.
“To me it came like second nature, and for them it was their first time touching the weapon,” she said. “So it was like teaching myself all over again.”
Angus Moylan, a staff Cadet from Royal Military College-Duntroon in Australia, said he appreciated the experience and expertise that the 3-304th Soldiers offered.
“They were excellent, always professional,” he said. “The transition to American doctrine was a big friction point. They really set us up well.”
The Australian team ended up one of the top foreign teams at the 2019 Sandhurst Competition. The overall winner was USMA Black, retaking the title for West Point after the U.S. Air Force Academy won in 2018. In second place was USMA Company D2, and the University of North Georgia came in third, the highest finish ever for an ROTC team. The top foreign team was UK Blue, in sixth place.