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Members of the Air Force Sandhurst team try to flip a large tire across roughly 50 yards during the Sandhurst Competition Saturday, April 16, 2011 at the U.S. Military Academy, N.Y. The competition requires each team to perform a series of challenging military tasks along a 7-mile route, and compete in a marksmanship competition. The team only had a rough idea of what to train for as most of the challenges were kept secret until the day of the event. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Raymond Hoy)
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Sandhurst: The ultimate combination of brains and brawn

Posted 4/18/2011   Updated 4/18/2011 Email story   Print story


by Staff Sgt. Raymond Hoy
U.S. Air Force Academy Public Affairs

4/18/2011 - U.S. Military Academy, N.Y. -- The team first takes down multiple adversaries while defending its position, traverses difficult terrain, then constructs a rope bridge to cross frigid waters. Next, team members render aid to a downed Army unit with multiple injuries before charging forward to complete their mission. And they did it all in around three hours.

No, this isn't some special ops unit on a secret mission in the mountains of Afghanistan; it's a group of Air Force Academy cadets competing in the U.S. Military Academy's Sandhurst Competition Friday and Saturday. West Point hosts the annual international event which boasts 50 teams from Australia, Great Britain, Taiwan, Chile, and Canada; as well as the Air Force and Naval Academies and multiple ROTC units.

"I think they did really well," said Capt. Matthew Rottinghaus, director of training at the Air Force Academy. "They went really fast through the course which I think really helped them."

Sandhurst was started in 1967 and was basically just a variety of drills and obstacle courses. Over the years, the competition has evolved into something that tests the participants' knowledge and ability to think on their feet. The competition requires each team to perform a series of challenging military tasks along a 7-mile route, and compete in a marksmanship competition.

The team quickly realized after they finished Friday's shooting portion that while their speed and strength was an asset, their marksmanship needed some work.

"They didn't do so well in the firing scenario," Captain Rottinghaus said. "I think that hurt them a lot more then they initially realized. If you do poor out there, it really hurts your overall time."

They finished in 40th place in the shooting portion of the competition.

Despite the rough start, the team gave it their all in Saturday's timed field challenges and finished in 17th place ... regardless of the fact that they had no idea of what they were going to see when they got there. Secrecy is a big part of Sandhurst and the teams only have a rough idea of the obstacles they will face in the competition.

"This is what our military is going toward, this irregular warfare kind of thinking," Captain Rottinghaus said. "They are trying to get Airmen and Soldiers to think on their feet. It's incredibly more difficult to teach someone to think laterally, problem solve and mission plan than it is just to teach someone to rehearse something like just climbing over a wall over and over again."

However, not knowing the challenges didn't keep the team from doing a great job in the field. They finished ahead of teams that started as much as 20 minutes ahead of them.

"I think we did solid," said Cadet 1st Class Anthony Langdon who's been on the Academy's Sandhurst team for the last three years. "We made some mistakes here and there, but every team makes mistakes; it's how you bounce back from those mistakes."
Each team has nine members, one of which has to be a female. On the Air Force team, it was Cadet 3rd Class Dominique Amor.

"I was so nervous," she said. "It puts a lot of pressure on the females because we're just never going to be as physically fit as the guys; we just can't flip a tire by ourselves. So it was tough coming to practice knowing that I'm not always going to be able to keep up with them. But knowing that they need me and that I can contribute something to the team was really important to me."

Each member of the team has shown an interest in becoming combat rescue or special tactics officers. This course gave them a good look at the adversity they will face while pursuing that dream.

"Our combat rescue and special tactics officers typically have roots in the Sandhurst Competition," said Captain Rottinghaus, who brought his own experience as a combat rescue officer to the Academy. "When we screen individuals for those fields, we really look for individuals who are not only physical specimens, but also someone who can lead troops and think on their feet. I think this competition does a great job of testing that."

Their future careers as officers remain to be seen. But one thing is certain; they will be ready for next year's Sandhurst.

"I can't wait to get back here next year," Cadet Amor said. "I'm ready to start training once we get home."

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