After hundreds of rounds fired and thousands of steps marched, the Royal Military College of Canada defeated 60 teams from 11 countries to win the United States Military Academy’s Sandhurst Military Skills Competition.
The event, which covered nearly 56 kilometres and more than 36 hours over the weekend, featured 13 stations including obstacle course navigation, functional fitness, raft paddling, a test of marksmanship and — of course — kilometres of rucksack marching. Officer Cadet Anton Humeniuk, second in command of the RMC team, said the final challenge included dragging an artillery piece, and other heavy kit, 400 metres through the centre of the West Point, N.Y., campus. A “gut check,” it was designed to push the teams to their absolute limits.
|The Royal Military College of Canada competed and won the Sandhurst Military Skills Competition at the United States Military Academy in West Point, N.Y. on Friday, April 8 and Saturday, April 9, 2016. Photo courtesy of RMC|
“As soon as we were done, all the families and friends came and just swarmed us. Everyone was just really happy to be done.”
Making the six-hour trek to the southern New York military campus to watch and support the RMC team was Brig.-Gen. Sean Friday, commandant of RMC. He said he could not have been more proud. When the team crossed the finish line, it didn’t really matter to him if they had won.
“We knew that (the team) had given it their all,” Friday said. “They had fantastic composure … The leadership inside the team was really quite remarkable to watch over the two days. That’s really what mattered. The winning at the end was certainly nice, but regardless of what the results were, they had already won.”
Capt. Justin Lystiuk, a squadron commander at RMC and the team’s coach this year, is familiar with how Humeniuk and the rest of his team is feeling. Lystiuk competed and won the competition in 2006 and 2007 when he attended the college as an officer cadet. The Nova Scotia native said cheering and watching on the sidelines was a difficult and rewarding experience.
“We’re hands-off during the competition and we had to leave them to their own devices,” Lystiuk said. “Sometimes you want to correct them or give them advice, or even let them know how other teams are doing, but then we had to remember that we had to let them focus on the competition and that this moment is for them, not for us.”
Friday said it was clear that the team stuck to their plans.
“They were conserving energy when it was the right time, they had a leader, they had a second in command, there was mutual respect in the team for everybody,” Friday said. “Watching them, incredibly, they represented themselves, the Royal Military College, the Canadian Forces and frankly Canada. I think Canadians can be very proud of what their young men and women just demonstrated.”
After winning three straight years from 2005 to 2007, then again in 2009, RMC had failed to win the competition since. Humeniuk, a Vancouver native in his fourth and final year at RMC, has been on the team for the past three years. For those three years, the case in the RMC cadet dining hall built to hold the Sandhurst Sword sat empty.
“It’ll finally be back in the case again,” Humeniuk said. “It’ll be really inspiring for all the guys to come back and train to defend it.”
Lystiuk said the team had to wait six hours before the awards ceremony. As they watched both of the United Kingdom’s Royal Military Academy Sandhurst’s teams win second and third, RMC sat in quiet excitement.
“Everyone went crazy, got up and went on stage to shake hands with the big brass that were there,” Lystiuk said. “We won overall highest score and the top international team.”
While the team did celebrate loudly, Friday was impressed by how the team accepted the sword.
“Even when they went up on stage — they didn’t have to, they did this all by themselves — they marched up on to the stage,” Friday said. “They halted, and they turned in formation towards the Amercian general who was making the presentation. Even in that moment they were composed and honourable. I was very proud to see them do that.”
Friday said organizing the competition every year is a huge undertaking, even for the United States Army, but it is an important one.
“What it creates is an opportunity, very early in their careers as they’re learning to take on the role as officers and leaders, for an international connection,” Friday said. “We live in a world which is bigger than ourselves. When we go out the doors, as we are right now around the world in operations, we’re going to do it with allies and collations.
“There are countries here from as far as Taiwan and China, Australia, Brazil, the list goes on. Building those bonds early in their career, I think gives a very real opportunity to begin to understand what it is going to be like to represent Canada abroad.”
The 2016 competition was Humeniuk’s final year to compete. After graduating this spring, he’ll continue his training to become an armoured officer.
“Every year you watch the seniors on the team, it’s their last chance, you see it in their face and the way they carry themselves through the competition, always pushing hard and motivating the team,” Humeniuk said. “Now that it was my last chance, I’m so happy that this is the year that we won … we’re bringing the sword home.”