Cadets Win Record Number of Awards at International Law Competition in Italy

Six VMI cadets traveled to Italy to participate in a  Law of Armed Conflict Competition.

Bottom from left to right: Hannah White '24, Devin Thomas '24, and Gabriele Woodward '24 Top from left to right: Maj. Tim Passmore, Caleb Evans '24, Pierce Harvey '24, and Michael Menton '24

LEXINGTON, Va. April 12, 2024 — Virginia Military Institute was one of 25 military academies from around the world who participated in the annual Competition on the Law of Armed Conflict in Sanremo, Italy. The event was hosted by the International Institute of Humanitarian Law.  

Six VMI cadets out of more than 100 participants spent a week diving into war simulations where they had to advise on the legality of decisions given by their commanders. Each participated in mixed teams alongside two cadets from another academy. 

This year, VMI walked away with five awards, which was the most received by any academy at the competition. Hannah White ’24 won a silver award in the individual category, and four cadets won awards in the team category (Devin Thomas ’24 – gold; Michael Menton ’24 – silver; Gabriele Woodward ’24 – bronze; White – bronze).  

Cadets are chosen for the competition after completing a course on the Law of Armed Conflict with Maj. Tim Passmore, assistant professor of international studies, and then receive additional training and preparation as a team before the competition. In 2012, VMI started participating in the competition under Col. Robert James' direction, who now serves as a judge. 

The competition consists of cadets serving as legal advisers to a commander in a fictional war scenario simulation, according to Passmore. Cadets are divided into mixed teams of three, where they work with cadets from other academies. Each team is given a scenario, which develops over the week as new information is revealed. The teams must advise the commander on the legality of the various actions their military can take, Passmore said.  

“The body of law they are advising on is called international humanitarian law, or the law of armed conflict, and consists of various international treaties and other legal principles,” Passmore said. “Some of the main treaties are the Geneva Conventions, Hague Conventions, and UN Charter.” 

White, an international studies major who will be commissioning into the Coast Guard, said the competition was hands-down one of the best experiences of her cadetship.   

"Having the opportunity to meet people from all over the world for the common interest of Law of Armed Conflict is truly a unique experience,” she said. “Getting to work in a team with people I’ve never met before who are in militaries from other countries teaches you how to communicate effectively and how to work as a team player. It also allowed my teammates and I to develop friendships with people who we may get the chance to work with again in our military careers.” 

She said that with Passmore’s guidance, she became proficient in international treaties and conventions, along with homing in and developing her public speaking skills, attention to detail, and her confidence. She urges other cadets to apply for the opportunity to participate. 

“These are all skills that are important to master as a future military officer, and I can easily say that through him and this experience, I am more prepared to be a leader in the Coast Guard,” she said.  

Passmore said this experience allows his students to participate in a real-world exercise of military decision making.  

"Even though it’s a lot of hard work, the cadets find it really enjoyable and engaging,” he said. “Beyond this, it gives them an experience they will carry into their careers. Most of these cadets will go on to serve in the military, and this is an invaluable experience where they get to see how decisions are made and approach war fighting through a legal context.” 

Participating cadets also get to put into practice all the work that went into preparing for the competition for the past year. In addition to taking a class on the law of armed conflict, Passmore said the six cadets met as a team weekly in the spring semester to conduct practice exercises.  

“The cadets worked incredibly hard in their free time, and it paid off at the competition,” Passmore said. "The competition gave them an opportunity to meet and interact with cadets from other military academies all over the world. It's a great way to forge relationships with people at a similar stage in life, and the cadets always love the interactions they have.” 

Menton said Passmore’s class just clicked and it started him down a path towards international law and organizations. 

“The competition was a fast-paced learning experience that challenged my ability to think critically about complex issues and work well with my teammates who were from European service academies,” he said. “The experiences I had with my teammates and other members of the European armed forces were beyond beneficial. I was able to immerse myself in their cultures for a brief time and exchange experiences with them from our home countries.” 

Passmore said the competition allows VMI to showcase its cadets to a large international audience.  

"Their especially strong performance this year sends a clear signal of the discipline, hard work, and academic rigor of VMI, and particularly of the international studies program,” he said. “It is also wonderful that VMI provides this opportunity to a select group of cadets each year, as it tends to be one of, if not the most valuable experiences cadets have during their cadetship.” 

Laura Peters Shapiro
Communications & Marketing

VMI: Forging 21st Century Leaders