Fight for the sword
By IAN ELLIOT, THE WHIG-STANDARD
This will be one of the biggest sporting weeks of the year for Royal Military College.
At stake are bragging rights in one of the largest — and toughest — competitions for military cadets around the world.
The RMC team goes into the Sandhurst Military Skills Competition at West Point, N.Y., as defending champion of the prestigious event, and its winner four of the past five years.
The competition involves a team of nine cadets completing a gruelling seven-mile course, most of it through trailless bush, at a full run.
They must navigate obstacles and complete tasks that involve marksmanship, assault boats, rappelling, foreign weapons, orienteering and other team challenges, all under the eye of judges while at the mercy of the clock.
The exact layout of the course and the challenges it contains is a closely guarded secret until the day of the competition next weekend.
Some 30 military units from Afghanistan to the United Kingdom will enter teams.
Regardless of the country, the competition involves what are known as soldiers’ common tasks, all done by competitors in boots, full kit and rifle, plus radios, rope bags and other gear, over a course so mountainous that it makes the Fort Henry hill look like a speed bump.
“This is one of the toughest things I’ve ever done in my life,” said Leah Cook, (photo top right) a third-year officer cadet from Barrie who is in her first year with the team.
“It’s not just physically demanding, but it’s mentally demanding as well. There are some times you wish you could just trip over something but you never even think of quitting. ”
Nick Bouchard, (photo top left) a fourth-year cadet who is one of the captains of the team, says the 16 members, which include the nine team members and alternates, packed their training into already demanding schedules, starting the day with 5-km gas-mask runs at 6 a.m. and brutal evening and weekend training sessions to simulate course conditions.
“They tried to make the training harder than the course will actually be to get us ready for it,” he said.
RMC finished the course in four hours 29 minutes last year, more than five minutes ahead of the second-place U.S. Military Academy, which is shaping up as RMC’s fiercest rival.
The skills competition is a huge deal for the service aca -demies of the U.S., where each branch of the military has its own officer-training college, and both bragging rights and novelty side bets among officers in the different elements are common.
What they don’t like to see is the ceremonial sword that is presented to the winning team leaving the country for a year, but RMC’s grip on the weapon was only loosened once in the last half-decade when a British team won it.
RMC doesn’t have a great deal of success in intercollegiate competition
— large universities have first-year psychology classes with more students than the entire RMC student body — and while most of the other aca -demies are larger, Bouchard says it’s the individual fitness of the cadets, as well as a flexible approach to solving problems as a team, that has been the key to success in past years.
He says the team is determined to hang the winner’s trophy at RMC near the college colours.
“We’re going to bring the sword down with us this week and turn it over, then hopefully we’ll be able to pick it up again next Sunday.”
More on Sandhurst 2010
Background & History of the Sandhurst Competition