FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — Army ROTC cadets from Missouri and nine other Midwest region states converged on Fort Leonard Wood Friday and Saturday to participate in the U.S. Army Cadet Command’s 3rd ROTC Brigade Ranger Challenge.
After two full days of military skills competition — including tasks such as completing an obstacle course, rendering first aid and a weapons skills assessment — cadets from Minnesota’s Fighting Saints Battalion — comprised of students from Saint John’s University, The College of Saint Benedict and Saint Cloud State University — were the winners of both the five- and nine-person team divisions. The nine-person team will go on to represent the 3rd ROTC Bde. at the Sandhurst Military Skills competition in West Point, New York, in the spring.
Considered the “varsity sport” of ROTC, Ranger Challenge is similar to the Army’s Best Warrior Competition, and includes challenges designed to test each team’s mental and physical endurance. Making her fourth appearance at the brigade-level competition was Cadet Mary Dempsey, a senior at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Dempsey said this year’s competition had a nice mix of fitness-related events and tactics that tested the cadets’ mental preparation.
“While there is physical fitness dispersed throughout the competition, there’s really a focus on tactics — all the way from weapons and marksmanship to calling for fire and grenades,” she said. “I feel like that gives every team more of an even shot. You have to come here with both the knowledge and skills, as well as being in the best physical shape of your life.”
Dempsey said competitions like Ranger Challenge succeed at building confidence in the cadets while also helping to create more team unity.
“You don’t have to be the strongest and the smartest,” she said. “As long as you have team cohesion, you can get things done, no matter what.”
For the cadets of Northern Illinois University, in DeKalb, Illinois, just getting to the brigade-level competition was a small victory — the last time they competed at that level was in 1998, before most of the competitors were even born.
“It’s been 23 years since we’ve won at the task-force level,” said Lt. Col. Andrew Spring, NIU’s professor of Military Science, or PMS. “We’re super excited to be here. Our cadets get to see what it’s like to compete at this high level, and hopefully we can take that back and have some returns at our local level.”
One of the major benefits to competing at the brigade level and higher, Spring said, is the cadets get to meet a lot of teams they would never normally interact with.
“I think that’s one of the things the cadets will take out of this the most,” he said. “They are making some friendships and professional acquaintances they’ll hopefully take with them through their entire career.”
Spring said no matter how well a team does at Ranger Challenge, everyone improves “through the venue of competition.”
“What we look for in our officers is the ability to think critically and apply all of the skills they’ve learned in our program, and they do that through competition,” he said. “And when they go back to their organization, it makes each host university a little bit better at what they do.”
This competition was the first time Spring had the chance to visit Fort Leonard Wood, and he said his whole team was thrilled to compete here.
“Everyone at Fort Leonard Wood was tremendously supportive and we loved having the event there,” he said.
Also known as the Black Hawk Brigade, the 3rd ROTC Bde. is one of eight ROTC brigades across the country. It is headquartered at Great Lakes Naval Training Center, Illinois, and oversees ROTC programs in Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin.
Army ROTC produces approximately 70 percent of the officers entering the Army each year and is available through nearly 1,000 college campuses nationwide. At the core of their military science curriculum, they teach leadership and discipline skills, management techniques, cultural awareness and problem solving.
To view more photos from throughout the competition here, visit the U.S. Army Cadet Command Flickr page.