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USAFA cadets get 1st win 50-year history of Sandhurst Military Skills Competition

Sandhurst Military Competition

U.S. Air Force Academy cadets pose for a photo April 14, 2018 at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., after winning the Sandhurst Military Skills Competition. The cadets are holding the Reginald E. Johnson Memorial Saber, given to the winning team. This is the first time Air Force has won the competition in its 50 year history. (U.S. Army photo)

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. — Air Force cadets beat Army cadets to take the top prize at the two-day Sandhurst Military Skills Competition April 13-14 at the U.S. Military Academy.

It’s the first time Air Force Academy cadets have won since the competition started in 1967.

“We’re just a weird group of Air Force guys who wanted to go Air Force but wanted to play Army,” said Cadet 1st Class Nathan Ziegler in an Army news release. “We have a lot of us who are interested in doing more ground-force work instead of being directly in aviation.”

Academy cadets earned the top overall score to receive the Reginald E. Johnson Memorial Saber. The award’s namesake is an Army cadet who died in 1980 during the competition.

Army took second place to receive the Sandhurst Sword, which goes to the West Point regiment with the best aggregate company performance.

More than 700 military cadets from the U.S. and 14 other countries competed in squad assault tactics, rifle marksmanship, land navigation and other challenges.

Lieutenant Gen. Jay Silveria, superintendent of the Academy, said the win represents the warrior spirit of today's Academy cadets.

"Congrats to our Sandhurst team for an incredible win," Silveria said. "They pulled off this victory just like our cadets pull off victories on the athletic fields and in the classroom every day: with preparation, training, determination and grit. Their success in this competition is the result of countless hours of mental and physical preparation, and epitomizes the character our faculty and staff works to inspire in all of our cadets."   

A Good ‘Gut Check’

Ziegler has competed at Sandhurst three times. He was one of 17 Academy cadets on this year’s Sandhurst roster who, he said, were all critical to bringing home the win.

“I’m proud the U.S. Military Academy continues to uphold the tradition of the Sandhurst competition with utmost professionalism,” he said. “I’m proud that allied countries continue to train hard and take part in that tradition. In a time where there is some speculation about a lack of warrior ethos as our academies, I hope this win helps restore some faith in our next generation of leaders and goes to show that cadets are still training for the fight.”

“Pride” summed up Cadet 1st Class Carter Long’s emotions too.

“I feel incredibly proud to have represented the Air Force and the Academy on the international stage and to have had the honor of leading the most dedicated and hardest working team that I have ever met,” he said. “I think this win proves that today’s generation of cadets are committed to challenging themselves and getting out of their comfort zones to make themselves and people around them better. We showed everyone that we wanted to win and we were relentless in every challenge we faced.”

Long said the cadets’ victory is the result of years of training and is also a win for all former Academy cadets who have competed at Sandhurst. He said his first thought when competition officials announced the Air Force win was “Thank God.”

“Going into the competition we were confident that we had a team capable of winning, but you can get ahead of yourself and imagine yourself on the victory stand,” he said. “There are simply too many outstanding teams who are just as good. We pushed our team very hard this year and they responded with nothing but their best attitude and effort. To see that effort translate into a first place finish was a massive relief.”

Long’s first reaction was one of elation and reprieve.

“Every person on the team sacrificed so much for the success of the team not only in the competition but through all the training leading up to it,” he said. ‘It was extremely gratifying to see all of our hard work, though and effort pay off.”

Army Cadet Max Liles, a squad leader for Army at the competition, said the Air Force win is a reminder to be prepared.

“It’s a good gut check and also shows where we’re at and what we need to work on for when we all commission and become officers,” he said in the Army report. “As a squad leader, I’m going to review what we trained on and what we needed to improve on because, obviously, the Air Force trained better.”

Long earned Surdyke Leadership Award at the competition, dedicated to the memory of Army Cadet Thomas Surdyke who died trying to save the life of a drowning person.

Long is from Kennesaw, Ga., and Ziegler is from Colorado Springs. They’re slated to report to Hurlburt Field, Fla., for special operations training after graduating from the Academy in May.