AUSTIN, Texas — After two days of traversing 25 miles of mountainous, heavily wooded terrain with full packs, Army cadets from The University of Texas at Austin can now relax as the No. 1 ROTC team in the nation after the 50th annual Sandhurst Military Skills Competition.
The Sandhurst competition at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York, was held on April 7 and 8. There, 62 teams representing 12 international military academies, four U.S. service academies and eight Reserved Officer Training Corps (ROTC) programs competed day and night in 11 events throughout a 25-mile course, testing teams’ basic soldier skills and leadership abilities.
The UT Army ROTC Ranger Challenge team clinched first place in the ROTC division, an incredible feat for a team derived from a comparably small program, said Lt. Col. David Zinnante, chair of the Department of Military Science at UT Austin.
To qualify for Sandhurst, UT Army ROTC had to first win the regional and brigade competitions held in October and November. Only the best eight ROTC teams, winners of each brigade competition, converge at West Point for the finals.
“This was our third year in a row qualifying for Sandhurst, but our first time winning the ROTC division,” Zinnante said. “Each year, the students learned a little more about themselves and what it takes to compete at this level against teams from larger ROTC programs across the country and military academies around the world.”
The competition dates back to 1967, when the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst presented West Point with a British officer’s sword to be awarded as a prize for a “challenging and rewarding” skills competition to “enhance professional development and military excellence in selected soldier skills.” Today, nine-member squads (which include at least one female and a mixture of upper and lower classmen) representing military training teams from around the world trek together while completing a series of military tasks.
“Because everybody has to finish together, you’re only as strong as your weakest member,” Zinnante said. “It’s the ultimate team competition. I could not be more proud of these young men and women with full academic loads and commitments who have trained on their own time, over and above their Military Science requirements. More impressive, the team boasts a 3.34 GPA.”
This year, the UT Austin team battled rain and sleet as they faced an outdoor obstacle course, paddled through a river, pushed a Humvee up a hill and a cannon across a field, low-crawled under barbed wire, navigated unfamiliar territory in the night, tossed grenades on target, and proved their skills in enemy searching, casualty care and battle buddy evacuation.
The UT Austin team beat last year’s first-place team, Texas A&M University. The Sandhurst win puts UT Austin at No. 1 out of 273 ROTC programs in the country.
“Placing first is one of the most amazing accomplishments I’ve achieved with the team,” said cadet Kelsea Howe, a junior in finance. “Our attitudes and the relationships we’ve built were essential to our success. We put in over 10 hours a week of challenging preparation for this competition, and it paid off.”