A team of 12 members from Lehigh’s Steel Battalion Army ROTC will be traveling to the United States Military Academy at West Point to compete in the Sandhurst Military Skills Competition, a two-day competition against the world’s top ROTC and military academy teams.
The competition, which will take place April 17-18, consists of 16 events that challenge each team’s grit, strength and ability to adapt.
According to the United States Military Academy, the course utilizes time-crunch obstacles that will “test cadets’ ability to shoot, move, communicate and medicate.” The final event, called “the crucible,” requires the use of agility and toughness.
The team departed for West Point on April 11.
“You get to sit down and talk to people from all over the world and West Point cadets. It’s just overall a really meaningful experience,” said Cadet Lucas King, ‘21, the team’s captain.
In order to qualify for Sandhurst, the team had to win the regional Ranger Challenge at Fort Dix.
“It’s truly a great accomplishment that we’ve beat out huge schools like Penn State who draw from a much larger pool of cadets,” said Cadet Elias Pessiki, ‘22.
It is extremely competitive for Lehigh cadets to make this varsity team. A total of 21 ROTC cadets tried out for a spot and slowly the team was finalized until the qualifying competition at Ranger Challenge at Fort Dix, New Jersey.
Led by King, the team of 12 consists of two women and 10 men with an array of substitutes for anyone who may become injured.
King said the team has not qualified for this international competition in a decade and he is deeply honored to be leading the team through this milestone.
“King is a great leader, he knows when to put his foot down and listens well to input from others,” Pessiki said.
To prepare for the upcoming competition, the team has been practicing three mornings and four afternoons per week. King said preparation for Sandhurst has involved putting in a lot of extra time on top of their current commitment to the Steel Battalion.
Training has included activities such as rucking, which is a long march at walking or jogging pace with a 35-pound backpack on. Pessiki said the team also trains skills such as grenade throwing, marksmanship, first aid and carrying casualties.
On top of this, COVID-19 presented the Steel Battalion with difficulties beyond the challenges of training.
According to King, one of the key hurdles faced by the class of seniors was transitioning from complete shutdown at the height of the pandemic to running the program in a completely different environment.
“As we came into this semester, we wanted to figure out how we can ‘fight to train’—which is our battalion motto,” King said. “How do we get the same training we would get in a non-COVID environment? I really think we are finally there, getting the same experience we could get without a pandemic.”
Irene Macri, ‘24, was selected as one of two women to compete. She said despite the challenges COVID-19 presented, the team has been able to bond and stay close-knit within their circle.
“It has been my most positive experience at Lehigh to be able to compete with such a close group and overall has felt the most normal, even though the physical and mental toughness is anything but normal,” Macri said.
The ROTC Sandhurst team feels they are prepared for the upcoming challenge.