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JBLM Warrior Training Academy challenges cadet fitness

Photo by Sgt. Adam Keith Cadets from Gonzaga University’s Reserve Officer Training Corps program negotiate an obstacle course Jan. 26 on Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

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Muscles fatigued, abs twitching and fingers slipping, the cadet struggles to lift her boots over the pull-up bar for the fifth time. Staring forward, with time quickly slipping away, a burst of energy propels her legs over the top of the bar.

"Six," the score keeper shouts.

She bends to catch her breath. She's already tired - but this is just the start of the day's challenges.

After two days, Erin Cannon and her team from Gonzaga University's Reserve Officer Training Corps program, working mightily to earn their way into the Sandhurst competition, an even tougher international challenge at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y.

"We worked together really well today; I am very proud of that," she said at the end of the day.

Cannon arrived at Joint Base Lewis-McChord not knowing what to expect from the Ranger Challenge, a contest matching teams from Gonzaga, California Polytechnic State and University of Hawaii.

"This is a culminating event; we have 30 schools in the 8th Brigade in Army ROTC, and we've had three sub competitions," said Col. John A. Kelly, 8th ROTC Brigade commander.

The two-day event began with a stress shooting competition and transitioned into a ruck march.

"The competition focuses on many military skills, both individual and collective, where they have to practice to master these skills and then come and apply them here in this environment," Kelly said. "We have put in some variables to force them to be creative."

The cadets received hands-on training from JBLM's Warrior Training Academy, from zeroing their weapons to shooting targets while maneuvering among barricades.

"It was interesting that it pulled targets out further and further because we've always qualified on a 25 meter target," Cannon said. "To be able to shoot out to that far was a lot of fun and a good learning experience. I've never had that much hands-on instruction at a range."

"The range the warrior training academy ran was phenomenal because of the opportunity for our cadets to see firsthand proper training and what a real range was like," Kelly said. "Feedback from the WTA indicated that they were very impressed with the level of training of the cadets in cadet command."

Day 2 of the competition began with the cadets ready to go before the sun had an opportunity to rise and dissipate the chill of the early morning hours.

Beginning with a CrossFit style workout, followed by nine military tasks in scenarios across JBLM Lewis North, the cadets tackled first aid at a mass casualty site and constructed a rope bridge for transport across a frigid stream.

But because the cadets received little information about this year's competition, their biggest challenge was the unknown.

"The mystery added a difficult element because we didn't know what we were getting ourselves into," Cannon said. "We didn't really know what the events were going to entail so it was more of a challenge."

"The schools have come a long way and there's no time to get acclimated, they have hit the ground running, and they compete, so it's pretty impressive," Kelly said. "They've trained hard and prepared hard, and they are all excited and they all want to win."

Win or lose, Kelly said that there was more to the competition than being victorious and it was important to help the cadets recognize that they can overcome and adapt to any obstacle.

"I hope the cadets get a sense of pride, a sense of accomplishment, all of their hard work paying off and that they had a firm, fair but tough competition that absolutely pushed them to their limits," Kelly said.

But only one team could come out on top, and the team from the University of Hawaii was announced as the winner of the competition in a ceremony after the three teams finished the course.

Even though her team failed to win the competition, Cannon said she learned a lot about herself and her team during the competition.

"You really get close to your teammates and learn how to push each other and work together," she said. "The best part was running with my team and knowing that we are all going to make it and finish the competition together, working together to pull out the last bit of effort that everyone had."

Kelly is already planning next year's best Ranger competition.

"I want to bring all 30 teams here to JBLM, and run one event instead of having the sub-events," Kelly said. "We had great support from the installation, and I Corps and we hope to continue that in the future."

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