To build morale and encourage team building among students, the School of Advanced Military Studies hosted a Boatyard Warz competition July 22 at Hancock Pool.
“I stole the idea from the (Army) War College at Carlisle Barracks in Pennsylvania,” said Col. Brian Payne, SAMS director. “It’s a good team-building exercise, but it also nests well with our curriculum, which is about solving problems in ambiguous situations with the tools you have available.”
The event included all 124 SAMS students, split into nine teams by their class seminar, answering questions and working together to build a boat that could carry two competitors across the length of Hancock Pool and back.
During the question round, each correctly answered question earned the team the opportunity to choose one item for the boat, such as cardboard or water wings. If a team member answered his or her question wrong, every member of the team had to complete a physical challenge such as burpees or air squats before choosing an item for the boat.
“(The event) is a way for them to get to know each other and see how their skills or their planning or strategizing is going to come together to help their team get two people across in the boat,” said Maj. Maria Alcala, SAMS operations officer. “Seeing how their team works is how they’re going to get through the school-year. In every team you’re going to have your strong guys and then you’ll have one or two that are a little bit weaker.
“Now, throughout the year, they’ll know how to work together and make sure they all get through the academic schoolyear,” she said.
Payne said the event helps staff understand students better, too.
“I want to see what their group dynamics are like in a pressurized environment, so they get to know each other not only sitting in the classroom but also when they’re actually trying to get something done,” Payne said. “It gives our faculty an opportunity to observe students in action. As we see things about our students, we can tailor their specific education path for the year to help accentuate things they’re good at or address some of the things that they need to work on.”
Maj. Cory Braun, SAMS student in Seminar 7, said his team found the exercise innovative and fun.
“Our strategy was flotation first, speed second. We understood that there was no way to win if we sank, and that most teams underestimated how hard it would be to keep their boat afloat. Two engineers on our team really tipped the balance in our design,” Braun said. “We learned that as a team we have patience, which helped us wait until we had all available materials before we started building the boat. Some teams failed in this regard.
“We also learned that everybody was proactive in applying their own talents into the overall team effort, without there being any prima donnas,” he said. “(The event) replicates unconventional problems that SAMS planners may face, within the context of a fun event that better helps extract the lessons of the experience … and builds a fun institutional memory that SAMS students can pass on.”
Maj. Christina Shelton, SAMS student in Seminar 3, said her team worked well together. “We quickly divided our talents up and allowed those that had more knowledge in the basics of construction lead the group and direct the others,” Shelton said. “This event was a really helpful tool at getting to know our classmates better. It also helped us to serve in different roles — where someone wasn’t a leader, they had to be in the position of a follower.
“I hope they keep this event (going annually),” she said. “It’s not only a really great team-building event for our seminar, but it also gave my spouse a chance to meet my classmates and seminar leader.”