The wear out date on the Army's combat uniform is fast approaching. The switch from the universal camouflage pattern, or digital pattern as it was often referred, to the darker operational camouflage pattern is Oct. 1 of this year. It's rare to see anyone wearing the digital pattern on Fort Jackson, well, until Sunday that is.

While it may now be an oddity for Fort Jackson's active-duty personnel, it's not unusual at all for high school students. UCP uniforms were seen across the installation's training grounds and congregated around the 2nd Battalion, 13th Infantry Regiment footprint. The battalion is hosting the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps Cadet Leadership Challenge, or JCLC for short. Roughly 768 students representing 64 high schools from across South Carolina arrived June 9 to take part in the weeklong cadet challenge.

"We run a camp each year," said JCLC Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Fowler. "About 10 percent of the cadets from the state of South Carolina attend the camp."

Junior ROTC programs are found in most high schools and represent the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard. The program teaches cadets life skills that include wellness, leadership, self-confidence and discipline. Skills that will help cadets succeed and thrive in the future as civilians or Soldiers. There is no obligation for Junior ROTC students to enlist, although there are program benefits such as rank upon enlistment and the Army's split-option enlistment should students choose to enlist after completing high school or the Reserve Officer Training Corps program if they chose to enlist as officers and attend college.

"I think the cadets get a lot out of this," Fowler said. "It helps to build their leadership skills and it's a confidence builder."

The cadets participate in much of the same training as enlisted trainees. Some of the confidence building events included conquering Victory Tower's 40-foot repelling wall, two and three rope bridges and cargo net climb. Cadets also mastered ele"I'm rappelling and having a blast," said cadet Mason Hillard, from A. C. Flora High School, Columbia, South Carolina. "There were a few jitters at first, but I got past them. It was great."

Cadets also learned survival skills such as drown proofing at Knight Pool where cadets used combat uniform pants as floatation devices. Instructors taught the cadets to soak the pants in water, tie the legs to create air pockets and how to wrap the pants around their bodies to create flotation devices. Cadets followed lead and created the pant-floatation device and tested them by jumping into the pool.

"A lot of these (cadets) are doing things they've never done before," said JCLC Commandant Col. Maxie Joye. "One of the things you're going to get with these cadets when they return to school, you're going to get leaders."

The cadets were massed into four companies. Each day a new cadet is assigned a leadership position such as commander, first sergeant, platoon sergeant or squad leader. The cadets then take on responsibility for their assigned cadets and perform the duties of the position they are assigned. JCLC staff mentor the junior leaders to ensure they are successful and understand their roles and responsibilities.

The cadets finished out the week of training with an organization day to celebrate their accomplishments and to spend free time fostering the new friendships they made during the challenge. The final event to close the cycle included a graduation ceremony at Hilton Field on Saturday that family members and friends were invited to attend.

"This was my first year. I think this was a great starting point for me to meet new people and make new friends," said cadet Esmeralda Valasquez, from Calhoun County High School in St. Matthews, South Carolina. "I'm definitely thinking about coming back next year."