2021 Seven things to know about Sandhurst

By Lt. Col. Chris Ophardt and Brandon O'Connor, USMA at West Point - March 26, 2021

The annual Sandhurst Military Skills Competition takes place at the U.S. Military Academy April 17 and 18. The competition has undergone multiple changes since it started in 1967 and in its current form.

The 2020 competition was canceled because of COVID-19 concerns.

This year is a two-day competition featuring teams from West Point, ROTC, and domestic military academies. Due to COVID-19 concerns the International teams will be focusing on 2022.

 Here is what you need to know before the competition starts:

1. All in the name

While it is called the Sandhurst Military Skills Competition after the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in the United Kingdom, the annual competition has always been held at West Point. Sandhurst was started in 1967 when RMAS presented West Point with a British Officer's sword to use as the prize for a competition to promote military excellence.

It wasn't until 1975 that the competition began to resemble its current form with teams taking part in different challenges to test their military skills. Sandhurst was only an internal West Point competition until 1992 when ROTC teams began competing. Then, in 1993, RMAS began taking part annually. The Royal Military College of Canada joined in 1997 and since 2002 the competition has featured a diverse group of international teams as well as the Naval, Coast Guard and Air Force academies and ROTC teams from throughout the country.

2. Winning it for the Queen

West Point dominated Sandhurst for the first three decades winning every single year from 1967 through 1992. That streak was broken in 1993, the first year a non-West Point team competed, when the British team came from across the pond to finally win a military battle along the Hudson River.

For the next 16 years the competition was dominated by members of The Commonwealth capturing the title in the name of Queen Elizabeth II as RMAS won from 1993 to 2004 and the Royal Military College of Canada won from 2005-07.

RMAS and RMC-Canada went back and forth for a couple years before the plucky upstarts from West Point company B-3 finally broke through in 2011 breaking the queen's reign over the competition.

Not to be outdone, the Royal Military College of Australia - Duntroon claimed the title in 2012 bringing honor back to the crown. The Commonwealth would hold the title through 2016 with RMAS and RMC-Canada winning the titles.

West Point finally won again in 2017, but its hold on the title was short lived when tragedy befell the competition in 2018 and in a twist that none expected, the U.S. Air Force Academy fought their way to victory in a competition that tests ground combat skills.

Thankfully, the natural pecking order was restored in 2019 as West Point claimed the top two spots in the competition. USMA-Black took home the saber as the top team with West Point's Company D-2 nipping at their heals in second. Air Force dropped to a distant ninth place and the U.S. Naval Academy team could not stop splashing around and finished in 24th.

3. COVID-19 – The mission must go on

USMA leveraged best practices from the Army for training in a persistent COVID-19 environment which enabled West Point to conduct cadet summer training in 2020 and preserve our military training model. 

West Point will execute the Sandhurst Military Skill competition using many of these same best practices.  The competition will incorporate risk mitigation measures West Point has learned and refined over the course of the past year to enable a world class competition and crucible event for future military leaders.

4. An international flair on pause

Traditionally fourteen international teams from 12 countries compete in Sandhurst.  Two teams from Royal Military Academy Sandhurst (Great Britain).  These teams bring stiff competition, help grow international partnerships and build our allies future military leaders.   Due to COVID-19 concerns the international teams will not participate this year and return in Sandhurst 2022.

5. Shotgun start, reseeding and a photo finish?

The order of merit relay will return this year, with a few added elements from the Sandhurst operations team.  In the order they finished in the relay, teams will choose which of the 12 obstacles to start from.  Squad leaders will look at team strength, terrain, and other factors to decided.  Teams will then spend the rest of the week training on possible elements, attending the annual Sandhurst conference and familiarizing themselves with the terrain they must traverse during the competition.

6. Girl power

West Point first admitted women to the academy in 1976 and since 1986 each team competing in Sandhurst has been required to be co-gender with at least two females on the team. The rule applies to West Point and visiting teams.

The rule even applied to teams from the National Military Academy of Afghanistan when they competed in years past. Because there are no women in the NMAA, a female West Point cadet would compete on the Afghan team each year.

7. A plaque that is actually a sword

After fighting through two days of obstacles and lugging their rucks, which must weigh a minimum of 35 lbs., for approximately 30 miles, one team will be crowned the Sandhurst champion. The winner is chosen based on performance at each of the obstacles as well as the speed with which they complete them.

The champion will be awarded the Reginald E. Johnson Memorial Plaque, named for a Sandhurst competitor who died during the land navigation phase in 1980. Although it is called a plaque, the award follows the initial tradition of the competition and is a mounted cadet saber. The saber has been used as the award since 1999.

There are separate awards for the top ROTC team, top international team and top squad leader.

For all the details about this year's Sandhurst, including live results once it starts visit www.westpoint.edu/military/department-of-military-instruction/sandhurst