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Army ROTC cadets compete successfully at United States Military Academy
​UD's Army ROTC team of 11 cadets finished third among all ROTC competitors at the international competition at the U.S. Military Academy.

Eleven cadets from the University of Delaware’s Army ROTC program earned a third-place finish among eight ROTC teams and finished 25th overall among 60 competing teams at the Sandhurst International Military Skills Competition at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

The prestigious annual event, which is in its 49th year, took place on April 8 and 9. It’s a rigorous test of physical, tactical and technical skills including marksmanship, land navigation and fitness. Teams from all over the United States and the world participated, coming from as far away as Korea and Chile.

The UD team earned the chance to participate with their surprise first-time win at the Mid-Atlantic regional Ranger Challenge at Fort Pickett, Virginia, last October. They trained early in the morning, two hours a day, five days a week to prepare for both contests.

And preparation was a must: Teams at the Sandhurst competition covered 37 miles, climbed 1,500 feet and completed 13 different challenges over a two-day period with little rest. They bivouacked on a very cold and snowy night, climbed through an obstacle course, competed in a “ruck run” where cadets carry as much as 50 pounds of gear, participated in individual events like a grenade assault and worked as a team to move a Howitzer gun.

The experience was eye-opening for the cadets in many ways. They were surprised both by the ruggedness of the terrain and by the physical size of the participants on some of the other teams, many of whom had participated in the competition before.

“Nothing around Delaware can prepare you for the mountains,” said squad leader David Dinerman, a senior international business major from New Providence, New Jersey. “It was a complete team effort to get everyone through them.”

​The competition tested physical, tactical and technical skills, and the Delaware cadets said they were especially challenged by the mountainous terrain.

​Angel Ortiz, a junior criminal justice major from Wilmington, Delaware, agreed.

“Terrain was definitely the most challenging thing,” he said. “We kind of knew what it would be like, but we didn’t really know because out of our whole team only two people have ever been to West Point before.”

Micah Petersen, a junior from Houston, Texas, with majors in international relations and Chinese studies was very aware that it was teamwork and not individual physical size that helped the team succeed. 

“The last event was a Howitzer pull – we had to pull it 400 meters. And I thought here’s our team that is probably the smallest team competing,” Petersen said. “But no one had to turn the other person and drag them along – everyone knew they had to do it for the person on the left and their right.”

To facilitate communication, the squad of cadets was divided into two teams, Alpha and Bravo, with Dinerman selecting a leader for each. Petersen led the Bravo Team and Ortiz led the Alphas. 

Team leaders chose which cadets would participate in individual events, choices which led to a first place finish in the grenade competition and an 11th place finish in physical fitness. It was that trust in both leadership and teamwork that made the cadets confident they would place well, regardless of their limitations in size and experience.

“We knew that it’s not about the look of the team; it’s about how well the team operates as a cohesive unit. You find success using the people around you to the best of their ability,” Dinerman said. “I walked in knowing that without a doubt our strengths were that we would outthink – use our brains – on that course.”

Lindsey Baryluk, a sophomore international relations major from Franklin, Massachusetts, said that the best thing about the experience was seeing how the team worked together.

“You really saw unit cohesion,” she said. “Everyone has strong and weak points but we worked together to enhance our strengths.”

​The University of Delaware Army ROTC team gathers at the Douglas MacArthur monument on the grounds of the U.S. Military Academy.

​Another point of pride for the cadets was representing all 37 ROTC programs in the region as well as the University of Delaware, which has a much smaller program than those of the two schools (Texas A&M and Penn State) that finished ahead of them. The cadets also said that Delaware is a state that was unfamiliar to many of the foreign participants in the competition – and that they were glad to put Delaware on the map.

“At the end of the competition it wasn’t, ‘Where is that?’” Petersen said. “It’s, ‘What are you people doing down there?’”

The team especially appreciated that UD Acting President Nancy Targett and a group of University administrators came to one of their early morning training sessions in March to offer words of encouragement and wish them well.

Targett, in turn, expressed her admiration for the team.

“I am so impressed by the incredible grit and determination displayed by our cadets,” she said. “They set an ambitious goal, committed themselves to reaching it and, as individuals and as a team, practiced rigorously until they achieved it. I couldn’t be prouder of them.”

It may have been that sense of overcoming the odds that helped the cadets succeed. 

“We have to wear our school initials on our helmets, so the graders can score us while we’re competing. One of the other soldiers asked me if UD stood for ‘Under Dog’,” Ortiz said. “I said, ‘It’s University of Delaware, sir, but in this instance that’s pretty much the same thing.’”

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More about the team and UD Army ROTC

The cadets on the winning team, in addition to Dinerman, Petersen, Baryluk and Ortiz, were Colby Garbutt, Ian Milburn, Eriq Gloria, Todd Thorp, Angel Ortiz, Alessandro Chiodo, Ellie Blake and Kristin Alwell. Mark Couchman participated in the regional challenge but did not accompany the team to West Point.

The Sandhurst competition started as a friendly rivalry in 1967 when the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst presented the United States Military Academy with a British officer’s sword. The sword was to be the prize for a competition, the aim of which was to promote military excellence among the Corps of Cadets. In 2016, 60 teams from 13 countries participated. Nine cadets, at least one of them a woman, were required to participate in each event in the competition.

ROTC, the Reserve Officers Training Corps, is the largest officer-producing program for the U.S. military. At UD, the Army program is part of the College of Arts and Sciences but is open to any student in any major. It is an elective that combines courses in leadership, military science and practical exercises with a regular academic course load.

The University’s Army ROTC program currently has 112 cadets who are students at UD or at its partnership schools: Delaware State, Salisbury and Lincoln universities; Wesley College; and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.

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A UD Army ROTC team earned a third-place finish among eight ROTC teams in an international competition at West Point.
​Eleven cadets from UD's Army ROTC program earned a third-place finish among eight ROTC teams and finished 25th overall among 60 competing groups at an international competition at West Point.
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