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With the forested hills of the Lawhorn Scouting Base as their arena, over 2,300 Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) students met November 3-6 to compete in the 2022 U.S. Army National Raider Challenge.
"It’s the national championships between different brigades, battalions, and schools across the nation who come together and compete over several events that are very physical and mentally challenging,” said Abigail Alovera, a junior at Marianas High School in Saipan who traveled across the Pacific Ocean with her team to represent the Northern Mariana Islands in the competition.
The four-day outdoor event in Molena, Ga. featured high school all-service and Army JROTC students from across the nation (and Saipan) demonstrating their strength and athleticism in numerous team-focused events.
“Raiders is a team sport where you get a group of ten male, female, or mixed teammates together to complete certain tasks…one event, you’re running a 5K, the next you might have to build a rope bridge across a river, and in another you’re carrying big ruck sacks that have lots of weight,” said Colin Tortorelli, a senior at Riverside Military Academy in Gainesville, Ga.
The competition consisted of five strenuous events for teams to navigate, proving they are physically and mentally fit enough to compete on a national level.
Cadets waded through a waist deep trench of muddy water, used their teammate’s shoulder as a step to reach the top of an 11-foot wall, twisted ankles on tree roots during the 5K, and gasped in shock as cold river water poured down their backs at the one-rope bridge.
“We’ve been pushing ourselves every day, bleeding, sweating, crying together–this is really just the culmination of it all,” said Caleb Baker, a sophomore at Riverside Military Academy. “This is just the chance for us all to display who and what we are to everybody.”
JROTC is one of the largest character development and citizenship programs for youth in the world, currently operating in over 1,700 high schools. JROTC aims to motivate students to be better citizens and develop a sense of personal responsibility as they move throughout the different stages of life.
“This is an opportunity for these kids to come out and showcase all of the hard work and effort they’ve put in and just be with other kids that enjoy the same kinds of activities,” said Col. Kenneth Jones, Director of Army JROTC for the U.S. Army Cadet Command. “We also throw in a little competition, because we are the Army, and we like a little bit of competition.”
Events like National Raider allow JROTC programs to demonstrate the positive benefits it brings to students in creating unique opportunities for involvement and leadership.
This particular event also highlights the importance of teamwork. Over the weekend, teams pushed through exhaustion, experienced excitement, and disappointment, and wiped away mud, blood, and tears.
“It’s a lot of tough work through teamwork,” said Sophia Rebeschini, a senior at Leavenworth High School in Leavenworth, Kan. “It’s a lot of different events that we’ve got to push through and work as a team to get through it.”
It was esprit de corps at its finest.
“The most important thing to take away from Raider Nationals is definitely the mindset that you get from crossing that finish line,” Tortorelli said. “Every step that you take is important and you’re relying on your team to get you there.”
Sgt. 1st Class Karif Allen, a retired green beret with 20 years in the Army, is one of the JROTC instructors at Riverside Military Academy. This was his first-year coaching and attending the Army National Raider Challenge.
“It’s a physical, demanding competition, but I think that just barely touches on what it really is – at the end of the day it boils down to experience for the [kids] and preparing them for challenges through teamwork and team building. Sometimes that means defeat and struggle, but also how to bounce back and push through,” Allen said.
Several teams were experiencing this national competition for the very first time, and, for many students, this might be their first time away from home.
The Marianas High School team traveled over 7,000 miles and 27 hours to arrive at the competition in Georgia.
“A lot of us kids, this is our first time traveling this far and even off the island,” said Kevin Yang, a senior at Marianas High School. “Some of them were on the plane trying to sleep but they can’t because they were so excited.”
“I think this is going to set a path for us. It’s so mind-blowing that we’re here,” Alovera added.
For their first time away from home, most of the Marianas team never thought they’d be visiting Georgia.
These islanders also didn’t anticipate just how much of a shock the difference in temperature would affect them.
“It’s really cold,” said Yang. “For us islanders, we came from a hot and humid environment, so coming here, we’re wearing several layers of clothes and we’re shaking and shivering.”
As the dust of the competition settled, new friendships were forged, and trophies handed out, teams reflected on the impact of the event and the benefit of programs like JROTC.
“It’s a chance for [schools] to get their name out here, and bigger than that, it’s a chance for them to experience teamwork and motivation and dedication with their friends---their family members if you will,” said Baker.
For many students in JROTC, the benefit of leadership and being set up for future success is appealing, but the sense of companionship and belonging creates the strongest bond.
Nichol Tangcoy is a senior at Junction City High School in Junction City, Kan. Just over a year ago she moved across the Pacific from the Philippines to Kansas.
She gets emotional when talking about her Army JROTC team and the impact the program and people have had on her life.
“I thought I was going to be the outcast, but these people made me feel at home,” Tangcoy said.
“I always look forward to practice because I feel accepted with my team, and that’s why I love this team so much. Even though I am not American, I don’t have the best grammar, I don’t speak English on the daily, my team made me feel like I belong, like I’m part of something and I deserve to be there. That’s why I love this so much.”
For photos from the event, visit our Flickr site at: https://flic.kr/s/aHBqjAeoHz
For more photos and lists of the winners, visit: https://www.usarmyjrotc.com/raider-championships/
About Army ROTC
Army ROTC is one of the best leadership courses in the country and is part of your college curriculum. Through classes and field training, Army ROTC provides you with the tools to become an Army Officer without interfering with your other classes. ROTC also provides you with discipline and money for tuition while enhancing your college experience.
Army ROTC offers pathways to becoming an Army Officer for high school students, current active duty Soldiers, and for current National Guard and Army Reserve Soldiers through the Simultaneous Membership Program.