State College, Pa. (Oct. 14, 2014) -- For an unprecedented fifth consecutive year, The Pennsylvania State University Ranger Team took first place in U.S. Army Cadet Command's 2nd Brigade's Ranger Challenge Competition at Joint Base McGuire-Dix Lakehurst, New Jersey, Oct. 11-12. The team will represent the "Freedom Brigade" at the Sandhurst Military Skills Competition in April.

During the Columbus Day weekend when many Soldiers and college students enjoyed a long weekend before winter takes hold, more than 600 Soldiers and Cadets gathered on trails, waterways and field sites within JBMDL's wood line to compete in one of the largest physical and mental competitions held among the Reserve Officers' Training Corps.

This Ranger Challenge weekend tested the physical and mental toughness of the Cadets who accepted the challenge. Often dealing with a steady rain, and temperatures only in the 50s, 42 teams, each with nine Cadets, competed in nine challenges Saturday: the hand grenade throw, one-rope bridge, weapons assembly, an obstacle course, a confidence course, a physical challenge (pushups, sit-ups and pull ups), a log carry, a HMMWV push, and a medical lane.

As the teams progressed through the tests, they earned points based on their completion times at each station. From Saturday evening into Sunday morning, 2nd Brigade representatives tallied scores as team captains and representatives waited anxiously to learn their school's ranking.

By the end the first day, nearly 400 mud-caked, soaking wet and totally exhausted Cadets returned to the barracks to regroup for Day Two. Their Saturday night was a far cry from that of their college counterparts. They dried off, rehydrated, nourished themselves, strategized and rested for the next morning's culminating event: the 10-kilometer road march.

"They were physically taken to their limits on Saturday and now must get up and fight through the aches and pains of the previous day and carry their 35-pound pack over the six-mile course, all while racing against the clock," said Lt. Col. Donald McDannald, 2nd Brigade's Operations, Plans and Recruiting Officer.

Sunday morning was anxiety-filled, as hundreds of Cadets cleared out of the barracks and made their way to the starting line well before the break of dawn. Ten kilometers is a challenge on its own, and those marching knew the end of the event would have one final trial to overcome. One member of the team had to be carried the last kilometer of the road march, a final test of the teams' intestinal fortitude.

Brigade and school representatives, parents, onlookers and other supporters all rallied for the teams as they powered through the final, gut-wrenching moments of the event which would determine this year's winner. Penn State, a school traditionally strong at the road march, came in second place this year behind Rutgers University. The second-place finish did not cost them the competition because they'd already earned four first-place spots and four top-10 finishes in other events.

Penn State earned a first-place finish for the one-rope bridge, log carry, commander's challenger and overall transit time. They placed in the top-10 in the physical challenge, weapons assembly, hand grenade throw and the 10-kilometer road march.

According to McDannald, this year was one of the closest in memory. With a mere nine points separating the top five teams, the road march was a major factor for scores.

This year's top three teams were Penn State, Rutgers University and the University of Rhode Island, respectively.

"It's not just about physical ability, but also being able to think through complex tasks while under physical and mental stress," said McDannald. "This is the key to what we are trying to do -- train leaders who can think through uncertain and complex situations."

That nerve-wracking uncertainty was felt by Cadet Johnathan Graham, Penn State's Ranger Club team captain, who, along with wanting to win, also internalized his teammates' feelings about the competition while waiting for the results.

"I remember standing up there on line hoping the team wouldn't take it too hard if we did not win," he said. "I remember looking at my team [during the road march] and seeing every single person literally running on fumes and still giving 110 percent to the finish. That to me was more satisfying than any first-place finish in the past four years."

This Penn State team, along with the winning Ranger Challenge teams from the other seven brigades, will compete at the Sandhurst Military Skills Competition in April at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, pitted against approximately 50 other Cadet teams from around the world.