Adam Harrison organized his fellow cadets, and they ran several miles across wearisome mountainous terrain to their intended destination, donned gas masks and proceeded to properly assemble the parts of five weapons that had been piled in a heap.
To be sure, it was a tough task. But members of the East Tennessee State University Army ROTC’s Eddie Reed Ranger Co. placed among the top teams in completing that event at the prestigious Sandhurst Competition held April 19 and 20 at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.
The weapons assembly took them around 1:45 to successfully complete.
From the weapons assembly task, it was immediately on to another competition, but they didn’t know if it would be mountaineering, equipment identification, hand-grenade throwing or something else.
“We had to be prepared to do those things,” Harrison said. “We didn’t know where they were going to happen.”
Sandhurst is an international two-day competition that tests all the skills that may be necessary on a battlefield.
Cadets were given a map and had to run from event to event, not knowing what task awaited them at each stop.
“I think the first day we ran 4 miles out to a range to shoot,” Harrison said of his nine-cadet company.
As soon as the shooting was done, they were off running again to another event.
Keep in mind, Sandhurst is held at West Point in the Hudson Valley area of New York, which can be more mountainous than Northeast Tennessee.
“It was definitely two days of being on a StairMaster,” Cadet George Ford said laughing.
Harrison, Ford, Austin Hall, Alex Dayton and Lt. Col. Dan Bishop, chairman of the ETSU department of military science, sat down recently to talk about their experience at Sandhurst, which included placing fourth in pistol marksmanship.
ETSU did not take the top spot at Sandhurst but the cadets have resolved that they will be back next year armed with the knowledge gleaned from this year’s competition.
The men and women of the ETSU ROTC Ranger team sought that knowledge through the end of the competition. Bishop recalled seeing the cadets at their last task at Sandhurst, which involved carrying a Zodiac boat a half mile.
“It was a very, very proud moment speaking to their character,” Bishop said. “No quit in these guys at all.
“It’s not a normal competition. It’s not about wins and losses. It’s about leadership opportunity.”
To even earn an invitation to Sandhurst is a noteworthy achievement. ETSU’s ROTC program had never sent a team to Sandhurst.
ETSU’s team secured an invitation by winning the Bold Warrior competition in October.
This competition tests more than 5,000 cadets’ skills, military knowledge, physical fitness, mental toughness and grit.
“For us it was definitely uncharted waters,” Ford said.
Teams competing at Sandhurst hailed from Germany, China, Chile, Korea, Qatar, Brazil and other nations.
Besides that, only the top eight ROTC teams from the United States earn a spot at the competition.
“So when you look at the opportunity for a small team like ours to be invited and do well at that level of competition, it’s incredible,” Bishop said.
ETSU President Brian Noland thought so much of the Sandhurst invitation that he traveled to West Point to watch.
“It was awesome to be at West Point, to see ETSU on the helmets of these young men and women as they competed against the best in the world,” Noland said.
Bishop said that, according to West Point, Noland was the only college president to travel to those games to watch an ROTC program compete.
Noland was invited to meet with the top leaders of West Point while he was there.
“It was fun for me to watch President Noland hold court there,” Bishop said. “We brought ETSU with us when we went there.”
The Eddie Reed Ranger Challenge Company at ETSU is named after 1964 graduate Eddie Reed, who was killed in action in 1968 in Vietnam. He died to save his company by calling down artillery on his position to halt advancing enemy forces.
Harrison said that knowledge of their company’s namesake is with them when they are competing.
“It’s a powerful thing to know that you’re involved in an organization and part of something big,” he said.
Reed’s son, James Reed, accompanied the cadets to West Point.
The cadets stopped at Eddie Reed’s grave in Oak Hill Cemetery in Kingsport early on the morning they left for Sandhurst to pay tribute to him.
“I think that’s what helped get our head straight before going there,” Harrison said.