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Army May 4, 2012
24Duntroon staff cadets
A section of RMC staff cadets took on hundreds of trainee officers from
all over the world to win the US Army's Sandhurst competition, John
ATEAM of 11 Duntroon
staff cadets headed to the
US last month hoping to
place in the top 10 in West
Point's Sandhurst military skills
competition. Instead, they won out-
right against 50 US and internation-
al teams with a consistently strong
result through a series of tough chal-
lenges in the two-day event.
Held at the Camp Buckner field
training area near the US Military
Academy in New York, Sandhurst
tests participating sections in a range
of skills with a focus on core soldier-
ing proficiency, teamwork and leader-
Each West Point company fields a
section-sized team to compete along-
side international teams. Sandhurst
has been running since 1967, but it's
only the second year Australia has had
a team in the competition, with last
year's entry placing respectably in the
middle of the field.
Charged with putting together
Australia's entry for the competition,
Duntroon instructor Capt James Keam
aimed to bring together the college's
top-performing staff cadets.
"Based on the experiences of last
year's team, we were looking for
cadets who could think outside the
box, had good endurance and unique
skill sets that would help in specific
events," he said.
"Although there were some people
we chose specifically for their indi-
vidual skills, all the cadets chosen
were top performers in their respec-
tive companies, in terms of physical
To start the selection process, Capt
Keam put the word out last July and
received 300 expressions of interest.
A "paper board" went through the
files of all the nominating cadets and
narrowed the field to 40, physical test-
ing identified the top 16 and, of those,
11 staff cadets -- a nine-person section
with two in reserve -- were selected to
head to the US.
"Then it was a real challenge for
their section commander to be the
chief of chiefs and lead a team of
That unenviable job fell to SCdt
David Hodge, who played down his
role in bringing the section together
during the competition.
"Everyone knew their job and
knew the only way to win was to work
as a team," he said.
"At different stands we had differ-
ent people identified to take the lead
where their specific skill sets could
shine and everyone else just took a
knee and listened."
The first day started with a navi-
gation exercise through some of the
training area's most rugged terrain.
"It's hard going and on top of
the physical side, every activity has
some other complicating factor," SCdt
Hodge said. "For the navigation exer-
cise, we were working across two dif-
ferent maps with two different scales,
so that presented its own challenges."
After an exhausting navigation
exercise in the morning, the team
faced a live-fire section defence activ-
ity in the afternoon to test individual
shooting accuracy and fire control
The complicating factor was the
addition of "civilians" among the
enemy targets, penalising teams for
The Australians placed fifth in both
day-one events, putting them 10 points
ahead in the competition.
"The next closest team was the
Brits and they came first in the navi-
gation but something like 30th in the
range shoot, so it was our consistency
that payed off," SCdt Hodge said.
"We didn't realise the significance
of it until the next morning when
we walked into the mess and it was
clear we were the team to beat -- the
American kitchen staff were dish-
ing out food to the West Point teams
saying 'you'll need this to beat the
The second day started with an
obstacle course and continued with a
range of activities to test the sections
in military skills, problem solving and
team work, including rope bridges,
their job and knew
the only way to
win was to work as
-- SCdt David Hodge, RMC
IN 1967, the UK's Royal Military Academy Sandhurst
presented West Point with a British officer's sword
intended as a competition prize.
For the first eight years, it was awarded to the top
section based on performance throughout the year,
then in 1975 the criteria were changed to specifically
test the cadets' abilities to "move, shoot and com-
municate" over 20 days at the academy's field training
In 1986 the event was changed to a one-day com-
petition, then in 1988 it was stipulated that each nine-
person section required at least one female member.
Since 1993 two teams from RMA Sandhurst have
joined the competition each year, and a team from
Canada has taken part since 1997.
Last year the now two-day competition expanded
to receive international and broader US military
teams, including entries from Australia, Chile, Taiwan,
Spain, Afghanistan and the US air force and naval
Although West Point teams have dominated the
competition over the years, the UK has won nine
times since 1993, Canada won in 2009 and inter-
national teams took out the top five this year with
Australia first, followed by the UK, Canada, China and
the UK's second team.
Straight shooting: The team lines up for the section defence shoot on
the first day of competition.
Hanging tough: SCdt Andrew Jackson hauls himself and an ammunition
crate along a rope obstacle.
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