In April Brigham Young University’s Army ROTC competed in the annual Sandhurst Military Skills Competition in West Point, New York—an event comprised of rigorous mental and physical trials to test the best Army ROTC programs and military academies from around the world. In spite of injuries and uncertainty, the team showcased leadership and teamwork throughout the competition.
With 48 teams, and more than 500 individuals participating in the competition, BYU’s squad didn’t have room for many mistakes if they wanted to match or surpass last year’s fifth-place ranking. “We had a lot of expectations going into it. And because we did so well last year, we were confident that we could do better,” says Brett Andersen, a junior studying medical laboratory science from Pleasant Grove, Utah, and a member of this year’s Sandhurst team.
However, on the path to West Point, a string of injuries plagued the team’s preparation. “Over the last year, seven people have had some injury that made it so they can’t be on the team,” Andersen says.
Some team members incurred shin splints, fractures, and ACL tears. “In the end, we barely scraped together a team with people who had all worked together for over a year,” Andersen says.
BYU’s Sandhurst competition team captain, David Word, a junior from Las Vegas studying manufacturing engineering, constantly adjusted the team’s final roster. “We faced just about every setback imaginable throughout the months, weeks, and even days leading up to the competition, and challenges continued to set us back while in the thick of it as well,” Word says.
Determined to press on, the uninjured members of the BYU Army ROTC team arrived in West Point ready to tackle the grueling tasks ahead.
During the last event of the first day, BYU’s Army ROTC team was shorthanded. The eight-mile ruck—a rigorous hike where each team member is required to carry 50 pounds across muddy terrain—almost proved to be the breaking point for BYU. To stay in the competition, a team had to have nine participants finish the hike, but most teams started with at least eleven in case someone couldn’t finish. BYU only had ten starters.
“Having completed just over a mile, one of our team members went down and couldn’t continue. We had to take him to the medic station to be treated,” Andersen explains. “Others struggled on the ruck, but because we had to finish with nine, we had to work harder and endure more than we would have otherwise needed to.”
BYU Army ROTC ended up taking 19th place at Sandhurst, but they didn’t focus on the team’s ranking. “It’s cool to look back and see your team push through those events together,” says Christoff Webber, a junior from Urbana, Illinois, studying Arabic and another member of this year’s Sandhurst team.
“When it came down to performing under pressure,” Word adds, “the team demonstrated honor and set a Christlike example on the world stage.”
During the closing ceremony, Word received the Tom Surdyke Leadership Award, an honor given to the best squad leader in the competition, one who exemplifies selfless service, teamwork, and leadership.
Although Word was chosen for the award, he credits his teammates for their hard work and example. “My team did not quit, they did not give up, they did not let the stress get to them and tear them apart like I witnessed for other teams,” Word says.
“Through my three years of experience in ROTC, I have realized what type of leader I want to become and the qualities I hope to possess. Receiving this award is simply a confirmation that I am on the right track,” Word says.
Despite the setbacks the team endured, the BYU Sandhurst participants left the competition feeling optimistic. “Seeing what we overcame together was inspiring,” Andersen says. With this inspiration, the team is determined to press on and reach new heights in future competitions, no matter the circumstances.
Written by Jake Holt