They awake each morning before sunrise, a time when most college students are comfortably asleep. They brave cold winter mornings and sloppy spring weather to drive a short distance to Siena College.
Then the hard work begins. Several days a week, the three Army Reserve Officer Training Corps cadets – Ben Daniels ’24, Clayton Garland ’23 and William Lapham ‘24 – join their fellow cadets from the Mohawk Battalion for an intense hour or so of physical training. This includes grueling ruck marches, when the cadets, dressed in combat uniforms, walk at a fast pace over rough terrain with a backpack that weighs at least 35 pounds.
The cadets are preparing for the Sandhurst Military Skills Competition, an annual two-day event at the United States Military Academy at West Point, set for April 29-30.
Featuring the world’s top ROTC and military academy teams, the competition consists of a series of challenges that test a team’s military skills. Among the events are rifle marksmanship, land navigation, emergency medical treatment, knot tying, employing radio calls for artillery, crossing water obstacles in watercraft, and operating pistols and grenade launchers.
“The competition is an amazing opportunity to test leadership skills and receive training to advance soldier skills to the next level,” said Lapham, a history major with an art minor. He is from Latham, N.Y. “The mental and physical pressure will be a new experience to most cadets attending.”
The Union students are part of the Mohawk Battalion ROTC program. Hosted by Siena College, the program also includes students from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Skidmore College, the College of Saint Rose, Albany College of Pharmacy & Health Sciences and the University at Albany.
The 11-member team from Mohawk Battalion qualified for Sandhurst after finishing second at a regional competition at Fort Dix in New Jersey last fall.
Fifty teams will compete at Sandhurst. This includes 12 teams from the U.S. Military Academy, seven combined from the Air Force, Navy and Coast Guard academies, and 15 international teams.
The Mohawk Battalion is one of only 16 college/university Army ROTC teams out of 274 Army ROTC programs selected for Sandhurst.
“We don’t know what to expect, especially going up against teams from West Point and the academies where the military training is more rigorous,” said Garland, a political science major from Northfield, Mass. “But we have a great group of motivated, skilled cadets looking to make our mark.”
The Mohawk team trains at Siena and the 42nd Infantry Division of the New York Army National Guard in nearby Troy. To help better prepare them for Sandhurst, the team will leave for West Point a week ahead of the event to use its resources.
“The competition is going to be incredibly challenging, both mentally and physically,” said Daniels, a neuroscience major from Concord, N.H. “I expect we will be viewed as the underdogs. We have a strong, cohesive team, and if we're able to work together like we did at the Ranger Challenge competition in the fall, we should do well.”
Upon completion of four years of leadership training and specialized coursework including classes in military science, leadership and management, Army cadets commit to serve in the military after graduation.
The first class of Army ROTC cadets at Union started in 1917.
Union students may also enroll in ROTC programs of the Navy and Air Force at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy.