May 3, 2017 – As the sun begins to peak over the trees and beat down upon the grassy field, the sounds of cheers and shouting pierce the surroundings at the United States Military Academy. As the noises get closer, competitors can be seen sprinting past, sweat dripping from beneath their ballistic helmets and the packs they carry hanging with the weight of the equipment stored within.
At first glance, the environment initially appears chaotic, with hordes of uniform-clad individuals heaving each other over wooden walls, hauling rafts across water and shouting in order to be heard over the noise of the frenzy on the field.
Upon further study, however, the initial appearance of hectic disarray begins to morph into what is clearly the rhythmic motions of a practiced and trained team of military members. What at first could have been mistaken for a disorganized scramble of words coming from somewhere within the crowd are actually short and simple commands, which ensure a fluidity within the small groups to accomplish the tasks in front of them.
This is not a group of unprepared individuals. This is the moment that each team has been training for. These individuals are each part of 64 pre-selected teams competing at the Sandhurst competition.
The Sandhurst competition is a two-day event, which tests a team’s overall military skills. It first began in 1967, when the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst competed against West Point with the winning team receiving a British officer’s sword.
Prior to the competition, each team must select 11 individuals to represent their institution in a militaristic, 27-mile course involving 11 different obstacles. The time-sensitive event includes challenges such as tactical first-aid, land navigation, shooting, small-unit tactics and leadership reaction courses.
“We had 23 people try out for the team and had several tryouts spanning over a month and half in order to narrow down the top 11 competing members,” said cadet John Gulick, the Academy Sandhurst team captain. “We came together well due to the training we have been going through all semester.”
These teams are carefully selected by each of the service academies and endure rigorous training months prior to the event.
“Our team already excelled at the Coast Guard Academy Personal Fitness Exam standards prior to beginning training, but in order to succeed in Sandhurst, the team needed to go to an even higher level of fitness,” said Cmdr. Carlos Estevez, a Coast Guard Academy Sandhurst coach and advisor. “I liken it to special ops training of the service academies.”
These workouts included everything from sandbag workouts, weight lifting, running with weighted vests ranging from 25-60 pounds and obstacle courses.
Gulick, who trained with his team six days a week, is relieved the competition is over, but is enjoying the feeling of a job well-done.
“The best part of Sandhurst is finishing,” said Gulick. “You are just completely exhausted and every part of your body hurts, but the joy of taking off your rucksack and sitting down knowing you just finished makes all the hard work throughout the season worth it.”
The Coast Guard Academy, which received a silver placement at the competition, is currently ranked 21st against all other infantry tactical programs in the allied world. 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. This is an improvement over last year’s bronze and years prior to that.
While the Academy team already raised the bar for the Coast Guard representation at the Sandhurst competition, Estevez is not ready to stop there. He is already looking towards the future and how he can improve the inner workings of next year’s team.
“I want to continue to capitalize on the opportunity to hone leadership competencies into the Sandhurst preparation, as well as bring back the great morale, motivation and esprit de corps that the Sandhurst family has,” said Estevez. “With the right training and opportunity the Coast Guard can excel in air, sea and even land operations.”
Posted by PA2 Diana Honings