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Scenes from Sandhurst 12

Camp Buckner was buzzing on Saturday as 55 teams from around the world competed in the annual Sandhurst military skills competition at West Point. Here’s a look at some of the action I saw.

The 2012 Sandhurst Competition, also known as SANCOM, is a two-day military training competition course at Camp Buckner at the United States Military Academy in West Point, N.Y. sponsored annually by the West Point Department of Military Instruction. The Sandhurst Military Skills Competition has been held since 1967 and features nine-member squads from the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Australia, Germany, Chile, Spain, China and Afghanistan.

Squads this year included 36 teams from the U.S. Military Academy, two from the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst (UK) as well as American teams from the U.S. Naval Academy and U.S. Air Force Academy. Eight Army ROTC teams also joined a USMAPS squad. Teams are graded by time as they aim to compete various courses over the seven-mile Buckner area, including an obstacle course, a rope bridge, a rappel challenge, first aid and CAS-EVAC, weapon assembly, an IED scenario, a boat challenge and more.

I haven’t read anything official, but it sounds like the Australian team won this year’s event. Here’s a look back at my day with the cadets, click each image to view it larger and/or as a slideshow:

The first event I got to was the rope bridge held at Camp Natural Bridge off Route 293. Teams basically get to the side, devise a strategy to string a rope across a stream, and then pull themselves across to the other side without getting in the water. They have to carry rifles and cases of ammunition such as 22 LR, 223 Remington, 5.56 NATO, etc. across with them.

West Point teams were broken down by company, so below is a shot of I4 — as compared to C1, C2, C3, and C4, etc.

I should note that I only made it to three courses this year — the rope bridge, boat site and DMI challenge. I shot everything with a 400mm lens, so I didn’t bother with the obstacle site, and the rappel challenge was held a day earlier. First aid was way out in the woods this year and wasn’t feasible for me to reach, although I really wanted to. The IED scenario, I was told, was canceled for some reason. Bummer.

After the rope pulling, I walked up the hill to the staging area for this event, where teams gathered, hydrated and plotted out their plans. Made for easy portraits:

Teams don’t get it easy for one second in Sandhurst — Buckner is a huge wooded area and the squads typically jog as a group from one venue area to the next. You can see E3 here, with a group of fellow cadets who are behind them in caps running along in support:

I drove down to the main Buckner are near Lake Popolopen for the boat course, where squads had to maneuver a boat within buoys in the lake before paddling back to the beach. In terms of weather, the forecast was for heavy rain, so of course, it was bright and sunny most of the day:

Here’s the Royal Military College of Canada rowing their way to the beach. This course is always good for some great emotional shots like this:

Can you tell this cadet’s rifle is fake? It’s actually made of rubber (or plastic, I think it varies). A cadet told me these rifles are referred to as Rubber Ducks — they are made entirely of rubber or plastic that has been molded to resemble both the exact shape and weight of a rifle, this one being an M16, the standard Army rifile for decades which has more or less been replaced by the M4 Carbine. They’re used for training purposes, and some of them vary in that they are old, real M16 shells filled with plastic, or rubber-based with old authentic M16 parts, etc. Either way, they look legit:

After the boat course, I took a walk across Buckner with the legendary Tommy Gilligan (check out his photos from the day here) to site 8, the “DMI Challenge,” which was held at Buckner’s parade grounds. The official description of DMI was that “squads are faced with a problem to solve that requires both physical and mental toughness.”

That’s pretty vague — it essentially describes every aspect of Sandhurst. In reality, the squad’s problem was a huge M114 155 mm Howitzer, and the solution was to drag that sucker across the field. Just for fun, cadets also had to drag lots of belts, ropes, chains, heavy wooden crates of ammo and a huge metal plate. Then, they had to drag it all back to the starting point, after taking a brief written test. Safe to say it was easier to shoot this than actually do it. Here’s D3 going over the rules:

This is a cadet from the National Military Academy of Afghanistan. I don’t know how they scored, but it’s good to see they came and competed again:

Here’s D3 sizing up the cannon on that Howizter. I overheard someone say some of the equipment used was brought down from Fort Drum. Not sure how true that is:

D3 gets their big gun to the end of the field. You can see the course is mapped out here with orange cones:

Then, they ran back to gather more heavy stuff to haul. Worth noting here that every nine-member team must include one female:

Here’s a cadet from Canada drawing the lucky straw of pushing the cannon from behind. Talk about looking down the barrel of a gun:

Can you hold this for me? This is West Point cadet Camille Currin Runyans picking up the slack with six rifles, a bag of gear and the squad’s souvenir slice of log from the boat course:

Here’s the big ol’ crates of ammo en route:

This squad leader goes over the course with one of the referees, for lack of a better term (on the left). Each team is monitored and timed, with points docked for violations:

Here, two Canadians slowly roll this wheel-lookin’ plate that I think serves as the base to the Howitzer. It’s a lot heavier than it looks, evidently, and it looks heavy:

This is an ROTC cadet, shoving the Howitzer by the barrel:

The C4 Cowboys rode into town:

This is the cadet ROTC team from North Carolina State University:

This was one of my favorite portraits of the day, and it came somewhat by luck as this ROTC cadet from the Citadel was running toward a boat and I just happened to frame him like this. Lately I’ve discovered Instagram, so I processed a version there too:

Back at the boat course, these two cadets await teams on the sideline. No clue what that Arabic sign says, but if someone wants to translate, have at it:

To gain entrance to the beach, cadet teams first had to break through a metal door. A door on a beach? Yeah, kinda weird — the doors were framed and just randomly placed at the end of the sand. One cadet picked up a big ramming thing and typically had to bang on the door two or three times before it opened. This cadet from C4 ran in ready to fight:

The other random aspect of the boat challenge was cutting off a piece from a giant log. I have no idea how that relates to the military, but it was a huge pain for a lot of teams, especially the Canadians, who probably spent a half an hour and broke several saws trying to finish up. It prompted plenty of lumberjack jokes from us Americans. Here’s a C1 cadet doing work, its like one of those Acme saws Wile E. Coyote would use to drop a huge pine tree on the roadrunner:

One funny note — most every team jumped in the boat and left their helmets on the beach like this. The ROTC team from the Citadel lined up their helmets the opposite way (with the open part in the sand), and I immediately thought to myself, “but aren’t they just going to get sand in their helmets now?” As I thought about it, some West Point cadets behind me picked up on it too (use your imagination):

Check out more of my shots from Sandhurst 12 here


6 thoughts on “Scenes from Sandhurst 12

  1. Carrie Phelps says:

    Hi Danny,

    Great photos, they made me feel like I was there. You always you do a great job of capturing the emotion of the moment.

    Will you be taking pictures at graduation this year?

    Thanks so much for supporting the cadets and their parents by showing up to West Point events and documenting what the school and character of these young men and woman are all about.

    Sincerely, Carrie Phelps

    1. Thanks Carrie, appreciate the kind words and glad you liked the photos! I’m hoping to get to graduation again, it’s always a great day!


  2. Curt Powers says:

    More outstanding work, as always I truly enjoy your work. Thanks so much for sharing it.

  3. I’d like to echo Carrie’s thanks. As a grad & huge fan of Army sports, I always enjoy your photos. However, I especially enjoy the pics of cadet life not found on the fields of friendly strife.

    1. Thanks, means a lot! Wish I could have gotten around to more of the events Saturday, but it’s so spread out and it’s hard for me to there early. I think I got a good variety of the WP squads though


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