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8th Brigade ROTC tackles the inaugural Ranger Challenge at JBLM

33 ROTC teams showcase teamwork and camaraderie as they strive for next level at West Point

Winning ROTC teams used teamwork during the inaugural Ranger Challenge Competition Feb. 28 at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Photo credit: Gail Wood

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On this day - as ROTC cadets do as many burpees as they can in two minutes, or scale a 30-foot wall using a rope as fast as they can, or jog 6 miles carrying a 35-pound pack as quick as they can - it's all about tearing down and building up.

In the Ranger Challenge Competition, a two-day challenge held this past weekend at Joint Base Lewis McChord, 33 ROTC teams from 33 West Coast universities from Alaska to California competed, doing a variety of tasks that included hurrying over obstacles, following coordinates to find an object and crawling through a 20-foot long concrete pipe on their backs without the use of their arms.

Through the fatigue, frustration and drive to win, the cadets learned the importance of working together to achieve a common goal.

"It's about building teamwork," said Maj. Jason Grider, the media coordinator for the Ranger Challenge Competition. "It's teamwork and camaraderie. They understand they have to depend on each other."

The winning team - Central Washington University - will now represent the 8th Brigade at the Sandhurst competition in April at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. Only the top team from this eight-state region advanced.

With 10 cadets on a team, the winner wasn't what team had the fastest individual time. It was what team had the fastest cumulative time. You were only as fast as your slowest team member, making teamwork the emphasis.

"It's how you work together as a team," Grider said as he watched cadets scale a wall. "It's recognizing you've got to do your part and help out an individual get through the obstacle."

>>> ROTC cadets had to endure two minutes worth of burpees Feb. 28 during the Ranger Challenge Competition at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Photo credit: Gail Wood

Some of Friday's challenges were: helping all 10 team members reach a white tape mark on a pole about 15 feet from the ground; a 300-meter shuttle run; walking across a log and later through a maze blindfolded; doing as many sit-ups and then burpees as you can in two minutes. Two of the most difficult challenges required climbing. There was the scaling of a 35-foot wall at a 45-degree angle while carrying a 35-pound pack using a rope or making a human bridge by standing on teammate's shoulders. And then they climbed through a log challenge, going over and under horizontal logs 6 to 10 feet above the ground. 

One of the events that tested cooperation and trust were two blindfolded walks, one across a log and another through a simple maze. An assigned director gave verbal commands - "one step ahead, now to the right" - to guide their teammate through the Z-shaped maze that stretched about 30 feet.

"You don't realize how much you trust your eyes until you don't have them," Grider said as he watched the blindfolded cadets shuffle through the event.

>>> ROTC cadets with packs climbed walls Feb. 28 at JBLM. Photo credit: Gail Wood

>>> Blindfolded ROTC cadets climbed over a horizontal log challenge Feb. 28 at JBLM. Photo credit: Gail Wood

The blind log walk was harder. A slip resulted in a fall. But the cadet giving the voice commands was sometimes beside a teammate, ready to steady with a helping hand.

Jordan Merchante and Benjamin McDaniels, cadets from San Diego State University, were ready as they could be for Saturday's 6.2-mile run in full gear carrying a 35-pound pack down Solo Point and back up the hill again. They've been training for the sweaty run since October, running three times a week.

"We did a lot of rucking," said Merchante, who played tennis in high school. "It's pretty intense."

His team would run between 5 and 10 miles an outing.

The Ranger Challenge has been a day Merchante has been looking forward to for some time. He enjoys the competition.

"Everyone has their game face on," he said as his team waited their turn to climb a wall. "It's motivating to see. Everyone has the passion. It pushes you."

The pressure of the day, the months of training and the shared goal has had one effect on Merchante's team.

"We all have a pretty strong bond," Merchante said.

Humor, the ability to laugh in a tense moment, helps relieve some of the pressure.

"We're laughing and joking," he said. "It's just good camaraderie."

>>> ROTC cadets hit the rope challenge Feb. 28 at JBLM. Photo credit: Gail Wood

In preparation for the day, Joshua Mahoney, a senior at the University of Santa Clara, and his team ran twice a week carrying a full pack. They'd run four or seven miles an outing, keeping about an 11-minute mile pace.

Whether Mahoney was running in full gear, climbing a wall or doing sit-ups, he had one goal in mind throughout the competition. He wanted to finish well as a team.

"It's a huge team event," he said. "There's the one who is the best person. But it really is a team event."

The challenges, which also included a written test and a trial in a weapon simulator, were rough physically and mentally. A teammate of Mahoney's injured a rib when a water jug fell from a climbing tower and hit him in the chest, knocking him out of the competition.

"It's a huge hit to the whole team," Mahoney said as he waited to do his next challenge.

Mahoney's team is one of 12 teams from California. Of the 33 cadet teams competing, two are from Montana, three from Idaho, seven from Washington, three from Oregon, two from Alaska, two from Nevada, one from Hawaii and one from Guam. Gonzaga placed second in the competition behind Central Washington.

Competing in this regional event is not mandatory for college cadets. Only a small percentage of them do enter. But Grider said signing up for the Ranger Competition looks good on the resume. It's also a moment they'll never forget.

"Actually, it's a fun day for them," Grider said. "At the end of this competition each one of them is going to be completely and totally wiped out. But they'll have memories that they'll keep forever."

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