Embracing the challenge: A Citadel cadet’s point of view from the Law of Armed Competition in Sanremo, Italy

By Cadet Kyle Bernier, 24

As a cadet at The Citadel, I’ve been privileged to experience a variety of challenges and opportunities aimed at building my skills as a future leader. None can compare to the unique experience of being a part of the Law of Armed Conflict, or LOAC, team. Being a Chemistry major with a Civil Engineering minor, I was nervous when I first showed interest in the team since I knew I was going to be competing against cadets with a background in law — but this didn’t stop me from trying my hardest to compete. After a semester and a half of being an alternate on the team, the opportunity arose for me to be a member of the competition team three weeks before the contest. After accepting the challenge, I met with my teammates and we prepared rigorously for the upcoming competition at the International Institute of Humanitarian Law in Sanremo, Italy.

Sanremo, with its rich history and picturesque landscapes, provided the perfect backdrop for this test of our legal prowess. Stepping onto the international stage, representing not only The Citadel but also our nation, filled us with a sense of pride and determination. We were ready to showcase the detailed training and preparation that had been instilled in us by our dedicated mentor, Lt. Col. Christopher Hartley.

The competition itself was diverse, drawing teams from military academies and institutions around the world. We were randomly assigned teams with cadets from different countries, backgrounds and languages to represent a made-up country in the competition. The reason is to build communication skills with non-native English speakers, bolster international relations and overcome challenges that can arise during international combat scenarios. With our new teammates, we were thrown into a new world with each challenge presenting unique scenarios derived from real-world conflicts, requiring us to navigate complex legal frameworks while considering ethical and humanitarian implications. From conducting simulated negotiations to drafting legal briefs under intense time constraints, every moment demanded sharp intellect and constant communication with our teammates.

What truly set our experience apart, however, was the camaraderie and collaboration during the heat of competition. Interacting with peers from diverse cultural backgrounds broadened our perspectives and enriched our understanding of international law and cooperation. Whether engaging in “spirited” debates or sharing stories of life in our respective countries during downtime, we formed bonds that transcended borders by enjoying local cuisine and culture.

I was fortunate enough to have received a Silver Team Award for our team’s performance in the competition. It is a testament to anyone who wishes to join the team in the future to keep chasing their goals even if they are not selected at first. It shows that anyone can be a part of the team whether they are well-versed in law or chemical equations. Even though I did win an award, it does not compare to the friendships and memories I made at the competition. I have new friends from a variety of countries in Europe and Asia and am looking forward to the day I can travel and be shown around their native country. We are already looking to inspire next year’s team and hopefully prepare them enough to bring home even more awards to The Citadel.

I want to thank Lt. Col. Hartley for the experience and opportunity to show us how our core values of honor, duty and respect apply to the real world and for the reminder that it is important to do what is right no matter how hard it may be.

Cadet Kyle Bernier is from Tinley Park, Illinois, and serves as Alpha company’s Cadre Platoon Leader and Honor representative.  He is a senior majoring in Chemistry and minoring in Civil Engineering, and he plans to accept a commission into the U.S. Air Force as an Aircraft Maintenance Officer upon graduation.

Thoughts from the faculty advisor

By Lt. Col. Chris Hartley

Six cadets from The Citadel participated in the 22nd annual Law of Armed Conflict, or LOAC, Competition for military academies at the International Institute for Humanitarian Law (IIHL) in Sanremo, Italy during March of 2024. As described by the IIHL, the competition aims “to ensure that military cadets develop an early appreciation of the critical importance of LOAC in multinational military operations.”

The competition presents a fast-paced, fictitious military exercise scenario to mixed teams of three cadets from military academies from around the world who provide legal advice based on developing LOAC scenarios. The competition presents the cadets an early appreciation of the critical importance of operational legal issues in the single service, national and joint multi-national military operations. The issues they will be expected to consider and advise upon are based on real operations and represent current challenges and thinking.

This year’s competition had a record attendance of 101 cadets from 24 academies representing 14 countries and five continents. Newcomer countries to the 2024 22nd edition of the competition included Colombia, Turkey, Mozambique and Taiwan.

Citadel Cadet Kyle Bernier, a senior Chemistry major, was on one of several mixed teams who won a silver medal which placed his team among the top nine of 42 mixed teams. Kyle’s teammates were Danica Fischer of the Norwegian Royal Military Academy and Paul Plantier of Saint-Cyr Military Academy (France). Team captains Gianna Rabassi and Charles Sackett led The Citadel’s delegation. The other members of The Citadel team were Joseph Stilwell, Blaine Geiger and Grace Cooper.

This is the third year of The Citadel’s participation in the competition and our cadets are performing better each year. They also continue to enhance the reputation of Citadel cadets as being excellent team players and critical thinkers who thrive in a complex multicultural and high-intensity environment. We could not be prouder of the 2024 LOAC team.

Lt. Col. Chris Hartley is originally from Atlanta, Georgia and serves as Bravo company’s TAC officer. He earned a Bachelor of Science in Engineering Management from the United States Military Academy and was originally commissioned as an Air Defense Artillery Officer. In 2001, he received his J.D. from The Catholic University of America, Columbus School of Law.

For those interested in future years’ competitions, please contact Lt. Col. Hartley at chartle1@citadel.edu for more information or to apply for spot on the team. Prerequisites are few, other than being a rising senior cadet who is interested in studying LOAC and refining their skills in persuasive oral advocacy and public speaking. If selected, candidates must take a fall LOAC course in addition to participating in once per week preparation sessions during the spring semester. Please note that you may take the LOAC class even if you are not part of the competition team.