By Mike Strasser
The Pointer View – Courtesy of USMA
WEST POINT, N.Y. (Jan. 26, 2015) – In the 92nd exchange between the U.S. Military Academy and the Royal Military College of Canada, a tone was struck among participants of equal parts camaraderie and competitive spirit.
The 2015 USMA-RMC Exchange was set up both at West Point and in Kingston, Ontario, for cadets and officer cadets to experience a day of normal routine—classes, meals and extracurriculars—and another day of scheduled competitions and demonstrations.
Class of 2015 Cadet William Goodwin, class president and commander of 1st Regiment which hosted a banquet in honor of their guests, said the exchange marks an enduring friendship and mutual trust between the two academies and nations. To that end, commemorative plaques were exchanged between RMC Officer Cadet Zach Day, cadet wing commander, and USMA Class of 2015 Cadet Winston Boldt, deputy brigade commander.
Class of 2015 Cadet Kyle Geiser, Army Crew team captain (commodore, in sports parlance), said the team is familiar with international competition, but the USMA-RMC is special because they get to spend more time with the opposing team. Geiser said the two teams bonded over a couple hours of basketball in the gym before scheduling a joint crew practice.
“We showed them around our facility and equipment, and we very much instantly hit it off once the two teams got together,” Geiser said.
The last USMA-RMC Indoor Rowing competition was in 2001when Maj. Brian Forester, a USMA Class of 2004 graduate and men’s varsity coach, competed as a plebe.
“It was a storied tradition until the RMC had to stand down their crew team for a few years, but they’re back and we wanted to re-ignite the rivalry,” Geiser said, “It’s a big honor for us to get to host them.”
The first of four heats was a varsity 2000 meter contest, with Class of 2016 Cadet Ross Downum clocked the fastest 2000 meter time of the day at 6 minutes and 23.8 seconds, more than 36 seconds faster than the nearest RMC competitor.
“That was fun, but now it’s all about cheering on my teammates and cheering on the Canadians and see what they can do,” Downum said after his race. “I love it when a team comes here and rows against us, and I’m hoping we can go up there next year. I’d love to keep this competition going.”
In and out of the classrooms, he spoke with officer cadets to get a better understanding of their routine up north.
“I still don’t have a full grasp on it, but I’m always interested in finding out about how others do things,” Downum said. “We’re both very passionate about our countries.”
Class of 2016 Cadet Wesley Loudon is co-captain of the West Point Chess Club with Class of 2017 Cadet Nicholas Oblak. He said the club has been emailing their Canadian counterparts the last couple months and it was great to finally meet face-to-face. Loudon said they scheduled an outing at the Bowling Center the night before the tournament.
“We had fun, and we’ll do it again after the competition is over, but now it’s all business,” Loudon said. “They ran a great tournament last year in Canada and brought their whole armed forces team for us to play. We’re just happy to have gotten so much participation this year here.”
Loudon’s perspective is similar to most when asked to compare the two academies.
“Different but the same in many ways,” Loudon said. “I was always amazed that they get their branch right before they show up to RMC, whereas I don’t even know what I want to branch yet. That’s pretty interesting to me. Different, but the same outcome.”
The officer cadets spent part of their time touring West Point and visiting places like Trophy Point, Eisenhower Hall and the Arvin Cadet Physical Development Center, where some observed the infamous Indoor Obstacle Course Test.
“I thought it would be too mean to take them to the IOCT their first time here,” Loudon said. “But they were amazed by some of the architecture they saw.”
Class of 2017 Cadet Mark Dosh said chess is a highly-competitive game but the time spent with officer cadets before the tournament made it a more-friendly affair.
“It was nice hosting a small group because we were able to talk more on a one-to-one basis and actually get to know them,” he said. “It’s a very, very competitive game and can get pretty heated, especially in fast-paced or close games. We all have similar competitive natures but I think that’s also what brings everyone together.”
Officer Cadet Mitchell Binding, a Military and Strategic Studies major in the RMC Class of 2015, paired with Officer Cadet Jesse Haggart-Smith for the showcase debate inside the Haig Room. Binding last competed in the USMA-RMC Exchange in 2012 to win the coveted Debate Trophy, a tradition which started in 1952.
“I really enjoyed meeting with the Americans, the West Point cadets here, for one thing because they do things kind of differently than we do, and it’s really cool to see that,” he said. “At the same time, they’re very similar to us. It’s really easy to build friendships when you’re so similar.”
It was a little disappointing relinquishing the Debate Trophy to the USMA team, but Binding said it seems to be part of the tradition.
“We were looking at the plaques on the side of the trophy that shows who won each year and it does seems like the trophy has been passed back and forth in recent years,” he said. “I guess, tradition-wise, it was West Point’s year to get it back.”
Class of 2015 Cadet Ken Voet was part of the team that won the trophy in 2013. This year, he paired with Class of 2016 Cadet Meyer Ungerman—as two engineering majors debating on the resolution of nuclear power being essential for future global energy security.
“It didn’t sit well with me that the trophy didn’t return from Canada last year,” Voet said. “I got used to seeing it around at practice and then it disappeared. It was always in the back of mind that I’d like to get it back.”
Voet has only competed in the USMA-RMC Exchange at home, having missed both excursions to Canada due to illness. Still, getting the chance to host and compete both years will always be one the greatest highlights of his debate career.
“This will always be a special event for me because it’s the only time my friends, professor and senior leaders can come watch me debate,” Voet said. “It’s fun and rewarding to participate in something like this and reminds us why we put in all the work for a debate.”
As in 2013, the Corps of Cadets swept RMC in every home event this weekend, culminating in the Army-RMC Hockey game, 8-0.