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Air Force cadets train to lead teams in military skills competition

Sandhurst team in trainingSandhurst team rucks between tasks during a recent training at the U.S. Air Force Academy. (U.S. Air Force photo/Justin Pacheco)

U.S. Air Force Academy Strategic Communications

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. – The Sandhurst Military Skills Competition tests the military mettle of cadets from around the world. The U.S. Military Academy at West Point hosts the 55-year-old infantry-focused competition. Last spring, the U.S. Air Force Academy took home the top spot in a field of 48 teams from the service academies, ROTC units and international military institutions. The Academy’s team hopes to defend its title at West Point next spring.

It takes hours of physical and mental training each week to learn the skills required in the 12 events. Competition events include building and crossing a rope bridge, tactical shooting, radio calls, combat medical care, and raft paddle. The Academy’s Sandhurst Club trains, practices and prepares 17 cadets for the competition throughout the year. Ultimately the team selected 11 cadets to compete at West Point. This year’s Academy team leader, Cadet First Class Sam Ganas, says making that final 11-member roster is extremely competitive.

“Every individual is fighting for a spot on the competition roster, but they’re also trying to improve each other and work as a team,” says Ganas. “Ultimately, everyone wants the team to be as successful as possible and it really brings us together like a family.”

Cadets constructing a rope bridge
Cadets construct a rope bridge during a recent Sandhurst team training. (U.S. Air Force photo/Justin Pacheco)

The cadet-run club not only fosters teamwork and camaraderie but also serves as a leadership learning lab.

“It’s easy to make decisions in the classroom when you have time to think about the scenario. It’s much harder in a time crunch, in the field, in a real-time situation when you’re trying to meet the objective,” explains Sandhurst assistant team leader, Cadet First Class Phil Luba. “This is the best place to actively implement leadership lessons.”

Tech. Sgt. Sean Kennon, one of the non-commissioned officers who helps the team with administrative tasks and training, notes those leadership lessons are crucial for these cadets once they commission into the Air Force or Space Force.

“At the end of this experience many of these cadets will go on to be special tactics officers and we want them to be successful leading teams downrange,” explains Kennon. “We want them to take the skills learned here and apply them to the real world so they can bring their whole team back safely.”

Team members wear a patch on their helmets as a reminder of the real-world dangers of the scenarios presented in the competition. The patch bears the name of former Academy Sandhurst member, Capt. Matthew Roland, Class of 2010. He was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2015 and received a Silver Star for his life-saving actions in combat.

Cadets at firing range Cadets wear a patch on their helmet honoring former Academy Sandhurst member, Capt. Matthew Roland, who was killed in combat in 2015. (U.S. Air Force photo/Justin Pacheco)

“We try to honor everything he stood for and live up to the legacy he left behind,” reflected Luba. “We are always standing on the shoulders of giants and try to honor that in everything we do.”

West Point began hosting Sandhurst in 1967. The U.S. Air Force Academy team has won the competition twice since 2002, when West Point invited all U.S. service academies to compete.

The 2023 Sandhurst Competition is slated for late April at West Point.

See more Sandhurst Training photos on our Flickr page.

Cadets practice marksmanship at the Academy’s firing range
Cadets practice marksmanship at the Academy’s firing range, October 21, 2022. (U.S. Air Force photo/Justin Pacheco)