Cadets compete in Army ROTC's 'varsity sport'| October 29, 2009
This summer, Lindsy Grunow '10 and Harrison Mann '11 ran obstacle courses and rappelled from helicopters as part of the Army's Air Assault School. Last weekend, they found themselves faced with a new set of challenges as they joined with other William & Mary cadets to compete in the varsity sport of Army ROTC.
Five cadets from William & Mary competed in the 4th Brigade, Eastern Region Ranger Challenge Competition at Fort Bragg, N.C., Oct. 23-25. The annual competition pits teams of ROTC cadets from 39 schools in the mid-Atlantic region against each other in tasks such land navigation and a 10-kilometer road march. Other schools that competed in this year's challenge include Virginia Military Institute, James Madison University, Wake Forest University, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
William & Mary's team also included cadets from Christopher Newport University, whose "C Company" is part of the College's “Revolutionary Guard Battalion.”
"I really enjoyed being on the team," Grunow said. "It forced me to start my day off bright and early each morning and complete a challenging workout. It brought me closer to some of my fellow cadets, which I especially appreciated as I entered ROTC just last year."
ROTC cadets compete annually to be on the Ranger Challenge team. Once the team members were selected this year, the cadets trained three to five days a week and on various Saturdays, sometimes waking up as early as 3:30 a.m. The weeks of training helped build an "intense bond" among the cadets, said Russ Baker '10, a classical studies major.
"From the very first week of school, the Ranger Team is outside every single weekday morning conducting incredibly strenuous physical training (PT)," he said. "Multiple weekends end up being taken away in order to practice the more technical skills for the competition, such as grenade throwing, rifle qualification, and rope bridge training. ... All of this is on top of our already heavy school loads here at the College."
After months of preparation, the competition finally began on Friday with a physical fitness test. Later that day, the cadets participated in day and night land-navigation challenges. On Saturday, the cadets tested their marksmanship on a digital shooting range and then ran a grenade assault course. They later secured a rope bridge between two poles and had the team members slide across, using a harness. The cadets also took a written land navigation test and participated in a 10-kilometer "ruck" march, in which the cadets were required to carry 35-pound packs, load-bearing vests, and M16 rifles.
The William & Mary team performed well in most of the events throughout the competition. For instance, two cadets were chosen to take a hand grenade familiarization test, and they both received near-perfect scores. The team also placed third out of 39 schools in the night land-navigation task. Overall, the team 19th out of 39.
But, the team also faced challenges. During the road march, three cadets suffered from heat exhaustion.
"One was my best friend from infantry basic training, so I had already been through a lot with him," said Spencer Sullivan '10, a history major and the Ranger Challenge team captain. "I was glad I was there to take care of him and render him first aid. It was a very real implementation of our training."
Though the team was disqualified from the event, Sullivan said it actually brought them closer together because they focused more on caring for their teammates than on winning a certain award.
"It is difficult to describe what it's like to stop caring about a competition you've trained every day for two months for because your battle buddy needs help," said Sullivan. "To me that is what I'll always remember, not how well we may have done on the other events."
The cadets said they learned myriad lessons from the Ranger Challenge weekend.
"There were ups and downs galore, but we all had a good time and I think each one of us learned important lessons for our cadet and army careers," said Mann, a Middle Eastern studies major. "I, for example, learned that even if it looks like the most direct route to the point you are trying to find, never ever go through a swamp!"
Sullivan said that he learned that "there is constantly room for improvement in everything you do."
"We did very well, but we immediately identified the ways in which we could have done better," he said. "That is a great part of the Army because it's an exercise that is very applicable in the civilian world."
Grunow said the experience also built her confidence "in my ability to complete certain ‘hooah hooah' Army events, such as running through a grenade assault course, building a rope bridge, and completing land nav."
"My favorite event was the PT test because we practiced the most for it," said the art and environmental policy major. "The toughest event was the ruck march -- another cadet said that no matter how good of a ruck marcher you are, the ruck at the end of Ranger Challenge will still be tough. He was very right."
Baker said that the weekend not only tested their skills, but built strong friendships among the cadets.
"The friendships that develop during the competition go beyond school year, time in ROTC, and other differences that you would imagine," Baker said. "Whether you are a new freshman cadet at Christopher Newport or a three-year Ranger Challenge veteran at William & Mary, you both put in the same time, effort, and determination in order to accomplish something that benefits not only the team and ROTC, but William and Mary and Christopher Newport as a whole."
Though this year's Ranger Challenge has just finished up, the cadets are already looking forward to doing it all again next year.
"We worked hard before the competition and during the competition, and we will work hard after the competition to ensure the team does even better next year," said Mann.