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Sandhurst Military Skills Competition 2017
by Michelle Eberhart, U.S. Military Academy at West Point
June 16, 2017

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Sixty-two teams representing 12 international military academies, eight ROTC programs, and four U.S. service academies assembled at West Point for the 2017 Sandhurst Military Skills Competition at West Point April 7-8, 2017.

Since 1967, competitors from around the world have competed for the highly acclaimed Reginald E. Johnson Memorial Saber and this year was no exception. In previous competitions, West Point has been represented by 36 teams, one for each of the cadet companies. This year the Academy added two more teams to competition.

West Point’s Black and Gold teams were added to combine the most competitive cadets into two teams to represent the entire U.S. Military Academy as West Point’s elite Sandhurst contenders.

“These teams were hand picked,” Sgt. 1st Class Robert Puckett, Tactical Noncommissioned Officer in Charge of the Black and Gold teams, explained. “While it is a volunteer basis with the Sandhurst teams within the companies, the Black and the Gold teams had tryouts specifically for the team, so they did some extensive physical training and we’ve also taken into consideration their accomplishments in academics and physical aspects at West Point. These cadets are some of the brightest here at the Academy.”

The 24 selected cadets used obstacle course racing as a guide for training while combining Sandhurst specific workouts, shooting, and Black vs. Gold competitions to simulate the big Sandhurst competition. In addition, a combination of the Black and Gold team members recently traveled to an international competition in Chile, where they placed second out of 14 teams.

April 7, 2017 - Coast Guard Academy cadets compete at the annual Sandhurst Military Skills Competition. The Sandhurst competition is a 2-day event, which tests a teams overall military skills. The Academy cadets beat 29 out of 38 West Point teams and the U.S. Naval Academy at the competition, along with the Korean, Japanese, Columbian and Thailand teams. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Nicole Barger)
April 7, 2017 - Coast Guard Academy cadets compete at the annual Sandhurst Military Skills Competition. The Sandhurst competition is a 2-day event, which tests a teams overall military skills. The Academy cadets beat 29 out of 38 West Point teams and the U.S. Naval Academy at the competition, along with the Korean, Japanese, Columbian and Thailand teams. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Nicole Barger)

April 7, 2017- British army cadets navigate to the location of their next event during the 2017 Sandhurst Military Skills Competition at the United States Military Academy, West Point, NY. During Sandhurst, 62 teams representing 12 international military academies, four U.S. service academies and eight ROTC programs competed in 11 events throughout a 23-mile course. (U.S. Army Reserve photo by Spc. Jeremiah Woods, 358th Public Affairs Detachment)
April 7, 2017- British army cadets navigate to the location of their next event during the 2017 Sandhurst Military Skills Competition at the United States Military Academy, West Point, NY. During Sandhurst, 62 teams representing 12 international military academies, four U.S. service academies and eight ROTC programs competed in 11 events throughout a 23-mile course. (U.S. Army Reserve photo by Spc. Jeremiah Woods, 358th Public Affairs Detachment)

“They travel a lot and they work out a lot, I would say 90% of the training they’ve conducted, they’ve done on their own without any supervision or any outside interference, they’ve taken it upon themselves and shown initiative in everything that they’ve done,” Puckett added, before the Sandhurst kickoff Friday morning. “They absolutely want to win this thing.”

Cadet Cole Witter, Gold team leader, said being part of an elite squad has pushed him and his teammates to be their best.

“Being on the Gold team has been really interesting experience,” he said. “We’re from all over the Corps, but it’s been a great experience because everybody is super motivated, we all volunteered to do this and it just makes the attitude completely different.”

Throughout the morning and afternoon on Friday, all 62 teams had their rucksacks checked, then lined up at the start line, four teams at a time. From there, they would complete five events over the course of 12.5 miles, hoping to meet their bivouac times, get some rest, perform some night events and continue the challenge on day two.

On the second day, teams had five more tasks to complete through 10.8 miles of terrain, and eventually cross the long awaited finish line.

April 8, 2017 - U.S. Navy cadets lay out their equipment for a final check upon completing the 2017 Sandhurst Military Skills Competition at the United States Military Academy, West Point, NY. During Sandhurst, 62 teams representing 12 international military academies, four U.S. service academies and eight ROTC programs competed in 11 events throughout a 23-mile course. (U.S. Army Reserve photo by Spc. Jeremiah Woods, 358th Public Affairs Detachment)
April 8, 2017 - U.S. Navy cadets lay out their equipment for a final check upon completing the 2017 Sandhurst Military Skills Competition at the United States Military Academy, West Point, NY. During Sandhurst, 62 teams representing 12 international military academies, four U.S. service academies and eight ROTC programs competed in 11 events throughout a 23-mile course. (U.S. Army Reserve photo by Spc. Jeremiah Woods, 358th Public Affairs Detachment)

April 8, 2017 - Australian Defense Force Academy cadets navigate the course during the 2017 Sandhurst Military Skills Competition at West Point, NY. During Sandhurst, 62 teams representing 12 international military academies, four U.S. service academies and eight ROTC programs competed in 11 events throughout a 23-mile course. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Vito T. Bryant)
April 8, 2017 - Australian Defense Force Academy cadets navigate the course during the 2017 Sandhurst Military Skills Competition at West Point, NY. During Sandhurst, 62 teams representing 12 international military academies, four U.S. service academies and eight ROTC programs competed in 11 events throughout a 23-mile course. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Vito T. Bryant)

As each team ran into the finish line on Saturday, cheering squads filled the area. Unlike a typical race, however, winners are not determined until event results are in for all teams.

“Honestly, I had no idea we had won until they announced it,” Black Team squad leader Cadet Daniel Gaynor, said. “There are always rumors, but you can never put too much weight into them.”

Gaynor, who is also the head of military skills for OCR, says being a part of this year’s Sandhurst team built an unparalleled camaraderie.

“Many people suspected that an ‘all-star’ team such as ours wouldn’t be able to build cohesion, but that could not be further from the truth. Both teams are extremely tight knit,” he explained. “Specifically referencing the Black Team, everyone had low points in the competition, I personally had a 1.5 mile period where I hit my wall on day two and without my team I would never have been able to push forward. We got each other through with positivity and none of us feared anything more than letting each other down. We weren’t concerned with winning half as much as we were with being able to look each other in the eyes after the competition and knowing that we gave it all. We did.”

Perhaps Gaynor’s team-first attitude is the reason he won the inaugural Tom Surdyke Leadership Award.

The Tom Surdyke Leadership Award is in memory of Cadet Thomas Surdyke who died this past summer from injuries sustained while saving the life of a a person who was drowning. Surdyke was a member of the Company B4 Sandhurst team and his parents presented Gaynor the award.

April 8, 2017 - U.S. Army cadets race toward the finish line during the 2017 Sandhurst Military Skills Competition at the United States Military Academy, West Point, NY. During Sandhurst, 62 teams representing 12 international military academies, four U.S. service academies and eight ROTC programs competed in 11 events throughout a 23-mile course. (U.S. Army Reserve photo by Spc. Jeremiah Woods, 358th Public Affairs Detachment)
April 8, 2017 - U.S. Army cadets race toward the finish line during the 2017 Sandhurst Military Skills Competition at the United States Military Academy, West Point, NY. During Sandhurst, 62 teams representing 12 international military academies, four U.S. service academies and eight ROTC programs competed in 11 events throughout a 23-mile course. (U.S. Army Reserve photo by Spc. Jeremiah Woods, 358th Public Affairs Detachment)

“I considered Tom a little brother. He was in my squad when I was the B4 squad leader. I miss him a lot, and I was crying while they were introducing his award,” Gaynor said, noting he was shocked when he received the award. “I owe the honor of receiving Tom’s award to my team. When we finalized the roster for the Black Team back in February, the first thing we did was visit Tom’s grave and dedicate this year to him. We ran the competition for Tom in his honor and I don’t think we could have done a better job of honoring him. He’s up in the sky grinning ear to ear about how things have worked out since he left us.”

Upon accepting the award, Gaynor said hugging Tom’s parents was an emotional moment for him. The Surdykes will be Gaynor’s graduation guests in May.

“Tom’s memory and example pushed me this year to be the kind of leader that he would have been and demonstrate all of his qualities. I’ll spend my whole life trying to live up to him and I doubt I ever will, but this year, culminating with this competition, is certainly a step in the right direction,” he added.

After graduation, Gaynor will commission into the Marine Corps as an officer and knows he will use his Sandhurst skills throughout his military career.

“What I learned about small unit leadership through Sandhurst is invaluable,” he said. “I truly believe being a Sandhurst squad leader is one of the best ways a cadet can learn to lead men or women in the armed forces.”

In addition to Black team’s victory, USMA’s Gold team placed third.

By Michelle Eberhart, U.S. Military Academy at West Point
Provided through DVIDS
Copyright 2017

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