A group of Lehigh’s strongest Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) members are headed to West Point Military Academy to compete against teams from around the world in the 51st Sandhurst Competition.
A total of 49 different teams will compete, including 14 international teams, four U.S. Service Academies and 16 ROTC teams. Lehigh’s team earned its place in this premier competition by placing second in the Brigade Ranger Challenge against 44 other schools throughout the Northeast region.
There are eight brigades held across the country, and the top two teams make it to Sandhurst, known as the “Sweet 16” teams. These brigades were held in fall 2018.
“I’m extremely proud of these guys,” said Maj. John Abella of Lehigh’s Steel Battalion Army ROTC. “I’m proud of everything they have accomplished thus far and the commitment that it takes to be a part of this team. It’s definitely extremely developmental for them not only as future army officers but for the leadership that they demonstrate on a daily basis and that is able to permeate into our entire program.”
Since the first Sandhurst competition in 1967, Lehigh hadn’t scored high enough to make it to West Point until this year. The team consists of 11 of not only the strongest ROTC members, but also the best in academic standing.
Sandhurst will take place from April 12-13, with different military skill tests throughout. Each team is scored relative to how others do. The teams will not know who has won the competition until every team has performed.
“The intent is that they complete the task as quickly as possible to the standards that they were given,” said Capt. Ben Wearin, who is a team coach. “They have to know how to do the skill, but they also have to be able to out-perform everybody else in terms of how efficient they are.”
The ROTC team trains about three hours a day after classes, five or six days a week. Like other sports teams, the ROTC team comes back early from summer break and spring break to begin practice. Training includes intense physical conditioning, mastering military skills and leadership challenges.
Wearin stressed the importance of strong leadership. Any of the members could be needed as the leader so everyone is treated and trained the same, Wearin said.
Team captain Jacob Matus, ’20, said he was proud of how far the team has come and is looking forward to battling through the most demanding parts of the competition to overcome challenges as a team that they couldn’t overcome individually.
The course is over 30 miles. Teams do not know what exact events will be in the competition until they arrive, so the Lehigh ROTC team is preparing for anything. Obstacle courses, grenade launching, team challenges, shooting rifles and navigation are only some of the many different events that could be asked of teams to perform.
For the Lehigh ROTC team to do well in Sandhurst against the steep competition, it must perform at its very best both physically and mentally, Wearin said. To overcome challenges, the team must be able to adapt and be resilient.
“You know, we volunteer to do this,” Matus said. “We don’t get anything, we don’t get any extra credit for doing ROTC. We are doing it to improve ourselves and to represent Lehigh.”
The team hopes that this achievement of attending the Sandhurst competition will be the first of many. This year’s ROTC team has strengthened the program and set a positive motion toward the growth of new, stronger leaders as military officers and ROTC members.