The Institute Report,April 2013, Page 13
Novice Team at International
Contest Brings Home Award
Three VMI cadets and their faculty adviser recently returned from
an international competition in San Remo, Italy, with everything they’d
hoped for: a positive experience, cross-cultural friendships, and for one
individual, an award.
The team – made up of Nicholas Bruno ’13, Jonathan Mattingly
’14, and Nickolas Richardson ’13 – was accompanied by Col. Robert
“Bob” James to the 12th annual International Competition on the Law
of Armed Conflict, which is sponsored by the International Institute
of Humanitarian Law. While some of the U.S. service academies are
represented there each year, this was the first year VMI had sent a team.
The competition is designed to foster an understanding of international
law as it relates to wartime situations, along with cultural understanding
among the participants, all of whom are students at military schools. This
year’s competition saw 16 teams representing 14 countries. During the
competition, each participant is partnered with someone of a different
nationality and told to represent the interests of a fictitious country in
a hypothetical conflict. The competition is similar to that encountered
at a Model United Nations competition.
“For the first time out, we did very well,” said James, a 31-year veteran
of the U.S. Army who now teaches in the international studies department
at VMI. He continued, “Not only did [Richardson] come home with
some hardware, but we were very competitive in the discussions. [The
cadets] were not shy about speaking up and expressing their opinions.
… We got the experience and learned from it.”
Richardson, who singlehandedly began the effort to have VMI
participate in this competition, was honored at the end of the week
with the Spirit of San Remo Award,
given to the participant who best
exemplified the spirit of international
To win that award, Richardson
had taken a bold step, making an
impassioned speech on the last
afternoon of the competition in
response to a photograph shown
of U.S. Marines defacing the bodies
of insurgents in Afghanistan.
Richardson was the first participant
in the competition’s history with
plans to commission in the U.S.
“Usually, they can pick on the
Marines because there arenoMarines
there,” he explained. Emboldened by
his partner, a cadet from Belgium
planning to commission in the Air
Force, Richardson took the floor
to explain that the commander, and not a book of rules, is morally
responsible for what happens in the field.
“Your average citizen doesn’t care what the Geneva Convention says,”
he recalled himself as saying. “The average citizen wants to know what
went wrong, why it went wrong, and what you’re going to do in the
Bruno applauded Richardson’s efforts, saying, “He networked
with everyone and he brought all of the cultures together. He was an
“Our whole goal was to come to this and make VMI look good,” said
Richardson, who is double majoring in modern languages and cultures
and international studies. “I clearly
was not the best debater. To have
gotten an award like that was very
Mattingly, meanwhile, spoke
of the friendships fostered by the
VMI team’s participation. “It was
as much about social networking
as it was about studying the laws
and getting into the competition,”
he remarked. “There’s a saying
out there, ‘It’s a small Army,’ and I
think that’s pretty accurate.” Both
Mattingly and Richardson said that
they’d already received e-mail from
their new friends abroad.
Bruno’s trip was marred by a
bout of food poisoning, which he’d
likely picked up during a trip to
Vietnam just prior to his arrival in
Italy, but after an afternoon spent
hooked up to an IV in the emergency room of the San Remo hospital,
he rallied to give his best effort at the competition.
“VMI needs to continue to go to this conference,” said Bruno, who will
soon commission in the U.S. Army. “It’s an invaluable forum to develop
an understanding of international law in the world we live in.”
Jonathan Mattingly ’14 talks with British and Dutch competitors on
the portico of the Villa Ormond, headquarters of the International
Institute of Humanitarian Law.
– Photo courtesy of Col. Bob James.
Nickolas Richardson won the Spirit of San Remo award.
– VMI Photo by John Robertson IV.