Duck local leads VMI to fifth place at Sandhurst Military Skills Competition at West Point

Published 7:36 am Sunday, June 25, 2023

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Team members of Ranger Challenge, the “varsity sport” of the Army ROTC program at Virginia Military Institute, placed fifth, winning a Sandhurst Medallion for the top five overall teams out of 48 teams in the annual Sandhurst Military Skills Competition at the U.S. Military Academy (USMA) at West Point April 28 and 29, 2023.

During the two-day competition, VMI competed against teams from USMA, the Air Force Academy and the Coast Guard Academy, as well as Army ROTC units across the United States including Texas A&M, Notre Dame University, North Carolina State University, Liberty University and the University of Central Florida. In addition, 14 international teams competed, including the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst (RMAS) in Great Britain, as well as teams from Brazil, Canada, Chile, Denmark, Germany, Korea, Japan, Latvia, Mexico, Poland, Thailand and Sweden.

While it is called the Sandhurst Military Skills Competition after the RMAS, the annual competition has always been held at West Point. Sandhurst was started in 1967 when RMAS presented West Point with a British officer’s sword to use as the prize for a competition to promote military excellence. It wasn’t until 1975 that the competition began to resemble its current form with teams taking part in different challenges to test their military skills. Sandhurst was only an internal West Point competition until 1992 when ROTC teams began competing, and in 1993 RMAS began taking part annually. The Royal Military College of Canada (RMC-Canada) joined in 1997 and since 2002 the competition has featured a diverse group of international teams as well as the Naval, Coast Guard and Air Force academies and ROTC teams from across the country.

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After fighting through two days of obstacles including weapons disassembly/assembly, grenade assault, gas mask function, rifle and pistol shooting, programing a radio, carrying a casualty, land navigation and lugging their minimum 35-pound rucks for approximately 30 miles, the winner is chosen based on performance at each of the obstacles as well as the speed with which they complete them.

USMA Black (one of the 14 teams from West Point) was the winning team and was awarded the Reginald E. Johnson Memorial Plaque, named for a Sandhurst competitor who died during the land navigation phase in 1980. Although it is called a plaque, the award follows the initial tradition of the competition and is a mounted cadet saber. The saber has been used as the award since 1999. USMA Gold, the Air Force Academy and Texas A&M placed second, third and fourth respectively.

VMI squad leader Collin Fitzpatrick ’23, a history major from Duck, North Carolina, assigned tasks to his team members. “Everyone on the team was well rounded in their training and prepared to handle any military task asked of them. We trained hard through early mornings and late nights for this competition, and I’m very proud of our performance. I cannot wait to see the team that the new leadership will build next season,” he said.

According to Maj. Cory Weiss, assistant professor of military science/operations officer, officer in charge and head coach for them, the team was named champions of the 1st Brigade Army ROTC Ranger Challenge last October, at Fort Knox, Kentucky, which qualified them to compete at Sandhurst. “This is the first time VMI has been to Sandhurst since 2019, and at that time they placed 26th overall. Sandhurst is both physically and mentally demanding, and I couldn’t be prouder of the team. Fifth place at Sandhurst is a monumental accomplishment. It is the most difficult competition in the world for cadets,” stated Weiss.

Try outs for the Ranger Challenge team at VMI are held each fall and spring.