2016 Sandhurst Competition: 7 year drought comes to an end
By 26685 NCdt (IV) Graham Mater (photo with Canadian flag)
This has been my fourth year as a member of the RMC Sandhurst Team. For the past three years, I have returned from West Point each April vanquished. This is not to say that I was unhappy with the performance of the team in past years, but I wasn’t satisfied.
In my first year on the team, we came 3rd as a result of a couple of crucial mistakes on navigation and the rope bridge. In my second year, we conceded the victory as a result of a penalty on the pistol range and came 5th. Last year, I was disappointed with our 17th place finish.
But this year, I had the pleasure and the honour of bringing the Sword back to Canada. The last time we won was 2009; it’s about time we won again.
When we arrived in West Point for the external training week, the team was ready. We train as a group of fourteen members throughout the year, but only nine members are required to run the competition. The “Running 9” was chosen, and we knew that the balance of skills, fitness and experience within our team would give us the best shot at winning.
Our team was broken down into fire teams for ease of command and control.
MORE…including behind the scenes challenges…
Our team captain was David Chadwick. Dave’s leadership was admirable throughout the training season and was lauded by all during the competition. Leadership in the Sandhurst Team is a privilege, but also a heavy burden to bear. Dave bore it well. Our Alpha Team consisted of Nicholas Jobin and Josh Hewitt. These are two of the most skilled individuals I have ever trained with. They handled the most technical tasks during the competition. Bravo Team consisted of myself and our first year, Adam Welsh. Adam is the best runner on our team, and although he was relatively inexperienced, his eagerness to learn will make him an asset in the future. Our Charlie Team consisted of Olivier Beaulieu and Alura Castle. Olivier currently has the highest score on the PPT at the College, and is a force to be reckoned with. Alura is the strongest women I have ever met. She set the pace during the competition, and at some points we had to slow her down because she was starting to exhaust the rest of the team. I have no doubt that she was one of the biggest advantages our team had over the other competitors. Our Delta Team consisted of the two gentle giants of our team: Matthew Weeks, and our second-in-command, Anton Humeniuk.
This left Tyler Gilchrist and Elise Thivierge in reserve, just in case something happened to one of the running nine, and gave a chance for the rest of our team, Gavin Omand, Andrew Haves, and Augustin Mirea, to cheer us on all the way through the competition. Only nine members might run the competition, but we all know that it took the whole team to earn the victory. This victory was earned during the cold mornings and dark evening practices, every day, twice a day, for the last six months. In total, the team amassed over 400 hours of training. I guess that’s the recipe we needed for success.
But in true Sandhurst fashion, our plan to have an adamantine “Running 9” did not survive. The day before the competition, Matthew Weeks came down with a nasty cold. He made the decision the morning of the competition that he was too sick to run. This meant that Tyler Gilchrist would step off as a member of Delta Team on the start line. Statistically speaking, our teammates who are in reserve have a better chance of running the competition than any member of the “Running 9”. Every year in recent memory, there has always been a last-minute switch, and this year was no different.
The competition itself was incredible. It was well-organized, objective, and well-executed, and the overall consensus was that it was one of the most demanding competitions in the past five years. Anton was able to describe it succinctly: “A lot of rucking.” We covered nearly 60km in the two days of competition, with full fighting order and rucksacks on our backs. “It tested what we were still capable of doing after being pushed to our physical limits.” says Josh Hewitt. Each time we arrived at a stand, every team was exhausted, and we just had to do our best to employ the skills that we had been practicing all year.
At the end of the first day of competition, we finally arrived at our bivouac site, where we had a chance to eat, rest, and sleep. The temperature went below zero during the night, and we were better off than many of the other international teams who had come from warmer climates. This year there was a night portion of the competition. 7 of our members went off into the darkness at around midnight to complete a series of tasks that tested communication, brute strength, and put our skills to the test.
The morning of the second day, we woke up, brushed the frost off our bivvy bags, and got ready for another day of exhaustion. Muscles were sore, joints were stiff, but we donned our kit and prepared for the impending suffering. However, here was one curveball that we had to deal with. On the first day, Tyler Gilchrist’s knee had started to deteriorate, and he was in pain any time we were travelling downhill. We knew this would seriously affect our pace, and with the scoring for the second day being completely time-based, we knew we could not afford to go any slower. Tyler made the selfless decision to drop out once we reached the first stand. This meant that we had to call in our reserve, Matthew Weeks. We knew Matt was sick, but we hoped that he could keep up the pace until the finish line. He turned out to be an asset: “I was nervous, for sure. I wasn’t sure what I was stepping into but as soon as saw the team I just focused on winning the comp.” Matt’s arrival gave us a second wind. He told us that we were in second place after the first day’s events, and that boosted our morale and gave us something to hunt for. He was fresh, and ended up pushing the team to our limits, but it was exactly what we needed.
We covered ground at a blistering pace, passing other teams and flying over West Points mountainous terrain. I would say that there was a point during the second day where every member of the team started questioning themselves and their ability to carry on, but we had each other for motivation and our friends and family were all cheering for us. Alura Castle summed up the feeling perfectly: “I wouldn’t have been able to complete it without the motivation and support from my teammates.” Enough said.
By the time we arrived back on the West Point campus, we had a legion of supporters. Gavin Omand ran with us whenever he could, proudly waving the Canadian flag affixed to a hockey stick, a tradition we started a few years back. The Americans, the Brits, the Australians, everyone was cheering for Canada.
We crossed the finish line exhausted, exactly how we should. We had given it all, and everybody knew it.
I haven’t seen the overall results breakdown, all I know is that we won. But I don’t think we were necessarily the absolute best at anything. I think the key to our success was consistency. We didn’t make any mistakes. We performed when we had to, and as soon as we finished a stand or an obstacle, we didn’t dwell on it, we just moved on and got ready for the next task.
I am proud to have been a part of this team for the last four years. It has been my best experience at RMC. I love learning and practicing new skills, but the most important thing I learned is how to be part of a team. How to work together, how to communicate, how to lead, and how to follow. I am proud to have suffered through it all, through the victory, and the defeat, and I am grateful for all the support I have had along the way. This support comes from all around the College. From my chain of command, my friends, my teammates, the RMC Foundation, alumni of the Sandhurst Team, and especially our selfless staff: our trainer, Tomasz Deren, our warrant, WO Julian Wieczorek, and our coach, Captain Justin Lystiuk. They were just as much of a part of the team as anyone who ran the competition, and we wouldn’t have won if we didn’t have them helping us every day in our training.
I’m happy to have brought home the sword back to RMC in my fourth year at the College. It’s like the cherry on top of a delicious hot fudge sundae. I only hope that everyone can celebrate in this victory as much as the team is.
More photos by Lieutenant (Navy) Jennifer Fidler – Public Affairs Officer here
Statement from the Minister of National Defence on the First Place Finish by the Royal Military College of Canada at the Sandhurst Competition in West Point, NY
April 13, 2016 – Ottawa – National Defence / Canadian Armed Forces
“It is my honour to congratulate the Royal Military College of Canada military skills team for their first place finish at the Sandhurst Military Skills Competition at the United States Military Academy in West Point. Over two days of grueling competition, the RMCC team covered nearly 60 km and completed many simulated operational combat challenges. Success at Sandhurst demands a high level of perseverance, tactical skills, and leadership, and RMCC’s team delivered.
“The Sandhurst Competition is attended by military academies from 12 different countries, contributing over 60 individual teams. This competition demonstrates the leadership, resilience, and teamwork that the profession of arms demands. RMCC’s achievement is significant and is a testament to the commitment and skill of everyone involved. We are proud that they represented the Canadian Armed Forces and Canada with such distinction.
“Bravo Zulu RMCC military skills team!”
Déclaration du ministre de la Défense nationale à propos de la première place décrochée par le Collège militaire royal du Canada lors de la compétition Sandhurst à West Point (New York)
Le 13 avril 2016 – Ottawa – Défense nationale / Forces armées canadiennes
« C’est pour moi un honneur de féliciter l’équipe d’habiletés militaires du Collège militaire royal du Canada (CMRC) pour la première place qu’elle a décrochée lors du concours d’habiletés militaires Sandhurst au United States Military Academy à West Point. Pendant deux jours de compétition très exigeante, l’équipe du CMRC a couvert près de 60 km et a relevé de nombreux défis simulant des opérations de combat. La réussite de cette compétition exige un niveau élevé de persévérance, de compétences tactiques et de leadership, et l’équipe du CMRC s’est montrée à la hauteur.
« Des académies militaires provenant de 12 pays différents participent à la compétition Sandhurst, avec un total de plus de 60 équipes. Cette compétition démontre le leadership, la résilience et le travail d’équipe qu’exige la profession des armes. Cette réussite du CMRC est importante et elle témoigne de l’engagement et des compétences de chacun des membres de l’équipe. Nous sommes fiers du fait qu’ils représentent les Forces armées canadiennes et le Canada avec autant de distinction.
« Bravo Zulu à l’équipe d’habiletés militaires du CMRC! »