Norwich Cadets participate in international competition

Norwich Cadets participate in international competition

In the midst of war, who is a prisoner of war and who is a civilian, and what are the different requirements for their treatment? How are the Red Cross emblems lawfully used during combat? What if the country you represent has signed different international treaties from that of your allies?

These are only three of the many questions faced by 75 cadets from 14 countries who participated in the International Competition on the Law of Armed Conflict in April in Sanremo, Italy.

This is the first year Norwich University participated and the three students who represented the University hope it won’t be the last.

“It was the best learning experience I’ve had at Norwich,” said Christopher Franco, a senior from Doyltestown, Pa. “It really focused on how every action you take as a leader has serious consequences, some that you may not even know.”

“It taught me how to stand up and think on my feet,” said Eric Sterite, a senior from Wakefield, Ma.

According to Mathew Halferty, the most valuable part was "the interaction with cadets from the many different countries.” Halferty is a junior from Blacksburg, Va.

The annual competition is sponsored by the International Institute of Humanitarian Law (IIHL), based in Sanremo. All four service academies from the U.S. participated, but Norwich was the only private U.S. military institution to compete.

The purpose of the competition is to teach future military leaders the laws of armed conflict and how to apply them in contemporary conditions.
As the cadets describe it, it’s a crash course in making split-second decisions in the midst of war.

Several teams of two or three cadets are grouped around a table in what is called a joint operating center; the JOC commander – usually a military officer or law professor – sits in the middle and throws out problems the teams must solve. Since part of the experience is to learn to work with future military leaders from other cultures, each team is made up of cadets from different countries. At least one cadet on each team spoke English.

Each team represents a fictional coalition of allies that is fighting another fictional country or group of countries. Sterite’s team included a cadet from the Australian Defence Academy and a Dutch Marine. A West Pointer and a student from the Hellenic Naval Academy were on the team with Franco. Halferty was paired with a student from the Ryazan Elite Airborne Academy in Russia. For three days straight, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., the cadets were confronted with potential military scenarios. Every so often, the JOC hit a button and a new development, complete with graphic photos, popped up on a large screen.

“They kept rolling through different scenarios,” says Sterite. “You had to reference the materials in front of you and stand up and say what your team would do. You had to be on your toes and you had to know the laws.”

One scenario, for instance, had to do with how to treat a hostage who had compromised a Special Forces mission. Another was about the proper use of Red Cross emblems on military helicopters when the enemy forces were targeting the helicopters. A third covered the different requirements for treating prisoners of war versus civilians.

The cadets had all studied international military law before going to Sanremo. Also, prior to the beginning of competition in Sanremo, they heard a half-day of lectures on international laws and treaties.

Teams and cadets were evaluated based on their knowledge of the law of armed conflict, effective teamwork, how well they contributed in an international setting and how effectively they dealt with linguistic and cultural differences.

During the day, the cadets say, it was all business. But they got the opportunity to socialize with the students from other schools and countries at night. On the last night, a dinner was held for all the participants, and team and individual winners were announced.

Franco, who will be commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps in May, says the competition was quite relevant to what he expects to be doing in the military.

“Most modern warfare will be in an urban environment,” he says, “and many of the scenarios took that into account. And I know, as an officer, that when I give an order, I have to make sure that I’m not doing anything that’s legally or morally wrong, and that I will be held accountable.”

Sterite believes the experience will be relevant to his future plans, as well, although he does not plan to go into the military. In fact, Norwich’s participation in the competition came about because of an international internship that Sterite completed last fall at the IIHL offices in Geneva, Switzerland.

The director there urged him to have a team from Norwich compete and, when Sterite returned to campus, he proposed the idea.

Based on that internship as well as the Sanremo competition, Sterite “is turned on to international humanitarian law,” he says, and plans to work for a non-profit agency in that field.

Norwich University is the nation’s oldest private military college. It is the birthplace of ROTC, one of the first military colleges to accept women and one of the first to successfully introduce civilian students onto its campus. Norwich's current enrollment is 1900.