FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — Ten teams of cadets from 3rd ROTC Brigade, U.S. Army Cadet Command, competed here this weekend in the Black Hawk Ranger Challenge — a two-day contest designed to test the future officers’ combat skills and general military knowledge.
On Friday and Saturday, cadets worked to achieve the best rating in numerous tasks, including: M4 rifle, M9 pistol and M320 grenade launcher marksmanship, weapon disassembly, hand grenade assault tactics, functional fitness, casualty care, rope-bridge crossing, call-for-fire operations, night land navigation and Fort Leonard Wood’s Personal Endurance Course.
With 35-pound rucksacks in tow, cadets were also timed on their march from task to task, making for a weekend of non-stop action.
The cadets, representing six Midwest universities, were split into five nine-person teams, and five five-person teams. The nine-person team from Saint John’s University, Minnesota, won the competition and the nine-person team from Marquette University, Wisconsin, placed runner-up. Both teams — that placed in the same respective slots at the last Black Hawk Ranger Challenge — will go on to represent the brigade in New York at West Point’s Sandhurst Military Skills Competition April 17 and 18.
“Winning at Brigade (level) is a huge growth in leadership for me as the captain of the team,” said Cadet Ethan Erickson, Saint John’s University. “This team was built with an emphasis on cohesiveness, and without every single person that was on the team we could not have won this competition. It is truly a humbling experience to have the opportunity to be a part of this team and they all deserve recognition.”
Erickson said he and his fellow cadets trained since last summer for this.
“Our team moved in two weeks prior to school starting in mid-August to start physical training,” he said. “We then continued the same schedule starting Jan. 20 until the brigade competition. It was a lot of train up, and takes more dedication than some people may think, mostly because the balancing of school and intense training can take a toll. It has been a grind all year for our team, but the work has come to fruition.”
For Cadet Matthew Oldendorf, the nine-person team captain from Marquette University, competing at Sandhurst provides the opportunity to “right the last chapter” of his Army ROTC career after earning runner-up to Saint John’s University.
“Given my competitive nature, this 2nd-place finish has fueled my drive to prepare and compete even harder in order to beat the 1st place (3rd ROTC) Brigade winner,” Oldendorf said. “As one of the six seniors that are competing on the team at the Sandhurst competition, it feels kind of like our last dance; our last time to lay it all out and see how we stack up against West Point teams and ROTC programs all around the country. I really think that it is a special thing and I can’t wait to lead the team at Sandhurst and make some great memories.”
The other competing universities were: Wheaton College, Iowa, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Iowa and University of Missouri at Columbia.
Capt. Logan Springer, an associate professor of military science at Marquette University and the ROTC program’s team advisor, said he is proud of his team again qualifying for the upcoming competition at the Army’s military academy — one that holds great anticipation.
“It’s truly an awesome achievement for these cadets,” Springer said. “This is the third year in a row that they have qualified to go to Sandhurst. However, last year’s competition was cancelled because of the pandemic. We’re excited to compete this year. A good portion of our team are MSIVs (Seniors). This is their last big event in ROTC. They’re motivated and ready to give it everything they’ve got and leave the program with a winning legacy.”
The Black Hawk Ranger Challenge series traditionally takes place in the fall — the last one happened in November 2019 at Fort Leonard Wood — but brigade officials said COVID-19 eliminated the possibility for a contest in 2020, and so it was pushed to March.
Brigade operations staff said COVID-19 has presented some challenges, but achieving their mission while operating with more restrictions has only proven their dedication to producing the next generation of officers.
“I think it demonstrates that, in regard to the environment that we’re in, not only the Army but ROTC is going to continue to train leaders for the future,” said Lt. Col. Alex Marrone, 3rd ROTC Bde. operations officer. “We can’t stop. This is our brigade community event to do that.”
He added the universities in 3rd ROTC Bde. tested each of the cadets for the virus before they arrived at Fort Leonard Wood. Cadre ordered cadets to distance themselves from others or wear their standard-issue masks when they weren’t performing physically strenuous maneuvers.
“We’re still doing the same tasks,” he said. “But logistically, the 50-percent capacity in the barracks, the buses, it increases the cost and timing to get here. We are aware of COVID-19 and the problems it can potentially cause … We still train, it’s just in a COVID-informed environment.”