BYU squad of returned missionaries a ‘top-5 team’ — in storied Sandhurst military competition

Superstar soccer players dream of competing in the World Cup Final. Musical prodigies launch careers at Warsaw’s International Chopin Piano Competition. And becoming a Wimbledon champion tops the wish list of rising tennis pros.

For many military cadets and officer candidates, their personal “pinnacle” is being part of a team that tests their abilities at the annual Sandhurst Military Skills Competition. Each year, dozens of military skills teams from service academies and Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) college programs from around the world gather at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York, to vie for the Sandhurst title.

Brigham Young University’s Army ROTC Ranger Challenge Team claimed a top-5 finish at this year’s two-day Sandhurst competition, held April 29-30. Fellow top-5 teams included entries from the U.S. Military Academy, the U.S. Air Force Academy and the University of North Georgia, a senior military college.

BYU’s 2022 success is no surprise. The Church-sponsored university has enjoyed strong showings at West Point for several years. But this year’s Sandhurst squad drew an extra measure of attention: All 11 BYU team members (nine men and two women) are returned missionaries.

The BYU Army ROTC team’s top-5 performance at the recent Sandhurst competition reflects its physical and spiritual capacity and commitment, said U.S. Army Major Roland Griffith, the school’s battalion operations officer and an assistant professor of military science. 

Throughout the Sandhurst competition, the BYU team “would express their gratitude through prayer,” said Griffith. “The team prayed together — and they relied heavily upon one another and on their faith to make it through a grueling 36-hour, 27-mile event.”

BYU's Army ROTC Ranger Challenge Team carries inflatable watercraft to the shore during 2022 Sandhurst military skills competition in West Point, New York.
BYU’s Army ROTC Ranger Challenge Team carries inflatable watercraft to the shore during 2022 Sandhurst military skills competition in West Point, New York. Credit: Photo courtesy of BYU Army ROTC

Grueling indeed. The competition includes a variety of military skills events — including road marching with heavy packs, moving military equipment, employing various radio systems, performing first aid drills, rifle marksmanship, running through obstacle courses and navigating inflatable watercraft. 

“A few events, such as shooting and the hand grenade toss, are individual in nature but, by and large, the competition relies upon teamwork. It revolves around a team concept,” said Griffith.

BYU Army ROTC, he added,  “was definitely punching above its weight” to finish in Sandhurst’s top-5 alongside three teams from U.S. service academies and another team from a senior military college.

BYU ROTC Sandhurst team member McKenna Brown is a veteran of the school’s Ranger Challenge Team. A former college soccer player who served a mission in Uruguay, Brown was drawn to the school’s Ranger Challenge Team because it offered opportunities to compete and stay fit.

“But what kept me on the team were the bonds that your form with teammates,” she said

Brown recently finished her studies at BYU and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army. She plans to be a military nurse.

Brown’s Sandhurst teammate and fellow returned missionary, Aaron Clay, is a junior at BYU studying history, a National Guard member and a former instructor at the Provo Missionary Training Center. 

Brigham Young University's Army ROTC Ranger Challenge Team placed 5th in the 2022 Sandhurst military skills competition at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York.
Brigham Young University’s Army ROTC Ranger Challenge Team placed 5th in the 2022 Sandhurst military skills competition at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York. Credit: Photo courtesy of BYU Army ROTC

Military service provides the future Army officer a professional career serving his country and leading others. 

“When I first got involved with BYU’s ROTC, I met some of the guys on the Ranger Challenge Team; they were some of the best cadets that we had,” said Clay. “I joined the team and really loved the training, the competition and the team members.”

Team maturity was surely a valued asset for the BYU squad at Sandhurst 2022. Besides all serving missions, several of the team members are married. A few are parents.

Griffiths said competing at this year’s Sandhurst event provided the BYU squad with confidence-building moments to test their skills against fellow cadets and midshipmen from several different officer training programs from across the United States and more than a dozen nations from South Korea to Poland.

Brown, Clay and their teammates also enjoyed connecting with fellow Latter-day Saint cadets attending the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. The BYU team attended institute with the West Point Latter-day Saint Student Association and, on Sunday, participated in sacrament meeting and Sunday School with the West Point cadets.

BYU Army ROTC cadet David Word participates in the 2022 Sandhurst military skills competition in West Point, New York.
BYU Army ROTC cadet David Word participates in the 2022 Sandhurst military skills competition in West Point, New York. Credit: Sarah Windmueller