Cadets take 1st, 3rd at international LOAC competitions
U.S. Air Force Academy Cadet 1st Class Charlton Coats works with Swiss Capt. Mathias Ledermann at an international service academy Law of Armed Conflict competition in March at San Remo, Italy. Cadet Coats won the top individual award and the best mixed team award for his work with Captain Ledermann on their mock country, St. Cibard. (Courtesy photo)
by 2nd Lt. Meredith Kirchoff
U.S. Air Force Academy Public Affairs
4/12/2010 - U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. (AFNS) -- Six U.S. Air Force Academy cadets ventured to Quebec, Canada, and San Remo, Italy, in March, during spring break to compete in Law of Armed Conflict competitions against international contestants.
Cadet 1st Class Charlton Coats from Cadet Squadron 08 won the top individual honor out of 70 participating cadets, while Cadet 1st Class Kelly Snyder from Cadet Squadron 15 took third place in the individual rankings.
Two teams of three cadets traveled to Quebec for the Jean-Pictet International Humanitarian Law competition and to San Remo for an international service academy competition sponsored by the International Institute of Humanitarian Law.
In San Remo, cadets were placed on mixed teams and assigned a mock country to represent in a complex international conflict scenario, said Maj. Matthew King, an instructor in the Academy's department of law and coach of the LOAC competition team.
"Some countries are aggressive superpowers; others are tiny peace-at-all-costs states," he said. "Cadets have to know more than just the law; they have to know how to apply it as their country would."
Cadets representing the Academy set the standard at the service academy competition, Major King said, and were awarded for their high level of performance.
In addition to his individual award, Cadet Coats and his Swiss teammate also garnered the best mixed-team award, which is considered the highest honor of the competition, Major King said.
"I am most proud of the mixed team award," Cadet Coats said. "The team from USAFA represented the Academy very well and developed strong friendships with the cadets from almost every country present."
The Jean-Pictet competition is different in that the participants enter and compete as a team, and most of the teams consist of graduate and law school students. Cadet 1st Class Jordan Craft of Cadet Squadron 36 competed as a member of the Academy's team and said they were one of only two undergraduate teams and the only service academy in attendance.
The Academy's team did well to be accepted into such a prestigious competition and performed at a level much higher than the capability of most undergraduate students, Major King said. The Academy's team did not make the semifinal round, getting edged out by the London School of Economics team.
The week-long event put teams into a variety of simulated scenarios; competitors might act as a legal adviser, prime minister, Red Cross delegate or other role for a given situation.
"It consists in 'taking law out of the books,' by simulations and role plays, allowing the jury of the competition to evaluate teams' theoretical knowledge and practical understanding of (International Humanitarian Law)," Cadet Craft said.
"We received great feedback about the team," Major King said. "They impressed a lot of people, which is saying something at this civilian, academic competition."
All six students representing the Academy endured a tough selection process and rigorous training to reach an internationally competitive level of LOAC knowledge, Major King said.
"They were selectively chosen based on their performance in (Law 361) and recommendations from other faculty," he said. "They have to have a strong baseline LOAC knowledge as well as great critical thinking and communication skills."
Students began the process with Law 361, Modern Application of LOAC, and continued with Law 466, Advanced Topics in LOAC, in the spring semester, during which most of the competition training took place.
Reading assignments and scenario exercises entailed a great deal of time and preparation outside of the classroom, Major King said.
The Jean-Pictet team had to write a series of essays during holiday breaks for their team to be considered for a position in the competition, and also took Law 461, International Law, as a part of their preparation curriculum.
The cadets collectively agreed that all of the research, studying and preparation were well worth the exertion for the opportunity to compete on an international stage.
"It really has been a culmination of all my experiences in the legal studies major as well as the Academy that has really served to further my understanding of the Law of Armed Conflict," said Cadet Coats who will attend pilot training at Whiting Field following graduation.
Cadet Snyder said he found the most valuable skill he acquired to be the critical thinking developed from thinking on his feet. He co-authored the winning paper for the Inter-Academy Law of Armed Conflict Exercise in 2009.
Major King said this experience will serve cadets when they become Air Force officers.
"They develop the ability to think on their feet in a pressure-cooker environment; they need to know the law, apply it to the scenario, and articulately communicate their ideas -- all almost instantaneously," he said. "This skill is something that will serve them well even on day one as second lieutenants."
Cadet Coats, a native of Rupert, Idaho, said the experience has already impacted his character.
"(The Academy) has provided opportunities that cannot even be comprehended by students of other institutions," he said. "I would proudly say that the Academy, as an institution, has influenced who I am and motivates me to what I hope to become.