Cindy Bither
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Cadets to Compete in International Contest

FullTextImage/img/@altCadets (from left) Jonathan Mattingly, Nicholas Bruno, and Nickolas Richardson work with Col. Bob James to prepare for the contest. -- VMI Photo by Kevin Remington.

LEXINGTON, Va., March 8, 2013 – For 1st Class Cadet Nickolas Richardson, two years of persistent effort are about to produce the realization of a dream: a three-person team of VMI cadets is headed to Italy to compete against 34 other military schools from around the world in the 12th annual International Competition on the Law of Armed Conflict.

The competition, which is sponsored by the military department of the International Institute of Humanitarian Law, will be held at the organization’s headquarters in San Remo, Italy, a city on the Mediterranean Sea near the Italian/French border.

Richardson, along with fellow 1st Class Cadet Nicholas Bruno and 2nd Class Cadet Jonathan Mattingly, will make up the VMI delegation, accompanied by faculty adviser Col. Robert “Bob” James Jr., a 31-year veteran of the U.S. Army.

Richardson, Mattingly, and James will depart from Roanoke en route to Nice, France, on March 16. Bruno is traveling to Vietnam over spring furlough, under the auspices of the Olmsted Foundation, and will fly from Hanoi to Nice on March 17. All will return to VMI on March 23.

Richardson, who is double-majoring in international relations and modern languages and cultures (French), first became aware of this competition while, as a 3rd Class cadet, he was completing a semester at Ecole Speciale Militaire de Saint Cyr, more commonly known as Saint Cyr, which is France’s premier military academy.

The French school was sending a team that year, and Richardson wanted to be a part of it. He didn’t make Saint Cyr’s team, but he came back to VMI determined to do all he could to help the Institute form and send a team of its own. Earlier this year, Richardson joined forces with Bruno to work toward sending a VMI team to this spring’s competition.

“We took it upon ourselves to set this thing up and see if we could get it rolling with two heads as opposed to one,” Richardson explained.

Together, Richardson and Bruno worked to secure funding from the Dean of Academics, the Center for Leadership and Ethics and the Department of International Studies. They then approached James and asked him to become their adviser. It was a natural fit, as James served as director of international affairs for the National Guard from 1995 to 2000 and now teaches a course in multi-national peacekeeping at VMI.

Richardson and Bruno are serving as co-captains of this year’s VMI delegation, while Mattingly hopes to bring institutional knowledge of the competition to VMI’s team next year, said James.

The three cadets and their adviser have been meeting each Tuesday night in Scott Shipp Hall to prepare for the five-day competition, which is designed to prepare future officers for a world in which armed conflict is mediated by the rules of international law. James explained that at the competition, cadet attendees will be divided into teams of three, with at least one native English speaker per team – a necessary requirement, given that the competition is conducted in English, even though the attendees will come from every continent except Antarctica.

“The whole intent is to make them work as an international community,” said James.

Each team will be given a fictitious country, with a fictitious set of laws, and a problem, which must be solved according to both the laws of that country and international law, such as the Geneva Conventions, which regulate treatment of prisoners of war and the plight of civilians in war zones. Teams will have from Tuesday to Thursday to come up with solutions to their unique problems. On Friday, first- through third-place winners will be announced in both the team and individual categories, as judged by a panel of experts in the law of armed conflict.

With just weeks to go before their scheduled departure, the trio of cadets and their adviser say that they don’t want to just show up and then say they’ve been there – they’re looking to place well in the competition and let the international community of military schools know that VMI is a force to be reckoned with.

“If we have an overall team concept, we want to have a great experience,” James commented. “We also want to bring back some hardware.”

Richardson noted that when he was at Saint Cyr, people thought he was a West Point cadet – and he’d like to get VMI’s name out on the international scene so that doesn’t happen anymore.

The cadets, meanwhile, all say that they are looking forward to an experience which will doubtless serve them well as they embark on military careers that will take them well beyond the borders of the United States. All three are planning to commission – Bruno and Mattingly in the Army, and Richardson in the Marine Corps.

“I’m looking forward to working with cadets from all sorts of military academies,” said Mattingly, who spent the summer of 2012 training with the Spanish army as part of the Army ROTC’s Cultural Understanding and Language Proficiency (CULP) program.

“I love doing this – going and interacting with people with foreign militaries,” said Bruno, who had a CULP experience in Slovakia and has also traveled to Germany and Taiwan.

“This is what I do,” he continued. “I look forward to being a foreign area officer with the Army, so anything I can do to get abroad and interact with people from different nations and different militaries is a win for me.”

James concurred, saying that the cadets’ greatest gain out of this experience is likely to be the relationships they form.

“In this day and age, we are an international community military,” he said. “It’s not unusual for the military to be totally integrated on an activity, whether it’s a peace-keeping activity or just a training exercise. They’re going to meet people they’re going to run into later on in their career and that’s important. It’s the cultural aspect of it.”

–Mary Price