SANTA BARBARA, Calif. — The Surfrider Battalion’s Ranger Challenge team competed in the 8th Brigade Army ROTC Ranger Challenge for the first time with Cadet Karsen Flom leading the way as team captain.
Flom has been with her battalion’s Ranger Challenge team since freshman year at the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB). In 2020, she enrolled at UCSB after being recruited for the cheerleading team and shortly after found her calling to join Army ROTC. Flom is majoring in middle eastern studies with the plan to commission into a combat arms branch and ultimately serve as a civil affairs officer later in her Army career.
Now in her junior year, she’s balancing all three and loving it.
“(UCSB) seemed like the perfect fit where I could be at the beach, I could cheer, and I could also be in ROTC,” Flom said. “It was all three things I wanted.”
Managing all three can be stressful at times, but Flom encourages others to focus on the schedule and separate the craziness that comes with each world.
“Prioritize what needs to be done during the weekdays and what needs to get done during the weekends,” Flom said. “It’s just so important to take care of yourself both physically and mentally.”
Flom sees UCSB as a ‘work hard, play hard’ environment, striking that balance she needs. Throughout college she’s been motivated by her peers both within the university’s community and the ROTC program. Those were the qualities she found in the UCSB Ranger Challenge team when she first joined.
Army ROTC Ranger Challenges are team-based military skills competitions. All challenges are meant to be physically demanding with continuous events spanning multiple days. Ranger Challenge is often described as the varsity sport of Army ROTC requiring both physical and mental team strength.
“It’s so important for me to have someone pushing me to be better and that’s what I found at Ranger Challenge," Flom said. “A lot of times I was probably the worst at a physical fitness event, but instead of it being discouraging, it was a lot more motivating because of the people I was working with, looking up to them, seeing ‘oh I want to be like that.’”
One of those Cadets she looked up to was Cadet Lauren Little, who became the first female team captain for the Surfrider Battalion during the 2021 – 2022 Ranger Challenge season. Now in her senior year, Little is still on the team as co-captain, having passed the torch of leadership to Flom.
“She’s been doing phenomenal,” Little said. “It’s been just so fulfilling to see how well she’s doing… I think she grew a lot just in terms of confidence and resilience.”
“When I chose her to be the captain some sort of switch turned on and she was ready to go. She was so determined to lead the team not just to win… but to be the best that we could be.”
Fast forward to today, and the Surfrider Battalion has one first-place win at the Task Force South Ranger Challenge – a regional competition that determined which two teams from the southwest would compete at the brigade level competition last weekend, Jan. 26-28, at Joint Base Lewis-McCord, in Washington.
The Surfrider Battalion took 4th place at the 8th Brigade Ranger Challenge. Given this was the first time the team competed at the brigade level there were a lot of unknowns for them. Despite this the Surfriders kept their spirits high. Often the team could be seen cheering each other on and shouting out their signature catchphrase: “Look cool, Surfriders!” all throughout the competition.
“It was just an honor of course to be accepted and welcomed into the brigade challenge,” Flom said. “It was the first time our university has been here … it’s been a hell of a challenge, that’s for sure, but I think this was a good step in the right direction for future years to keep this as a tradition and keep us strong.”
Flom believes the team’s greatest strength is its family environment.
“That’s what’s so important about Cadet Flom’s process of building this team,” Little said. “She really focused on the fun aspect of it and just making it a positive atmosphere … she focused on that before anything else and I think setting that as a foundation is just going to set you up for success.”
Master Sgt. Jeffery Harvey, UCSB’s senior military instructor, believes Flom has made a great impact on the program and leads by example.
“Cadet Flom’s leadership style is probably best described as aggressive, caring and always looking out for the team,” Harvey said. “I am most proud of her ability to train and lead by example.”
Together, Little and Flom have built the team to what it is today. All the Cadets are devoted to pursuing physical fitness and supporting each other while training. The Surfrider Battalion’s Ranger Challenge team roster is rather unique with four members of the team being women – including its leadership. For a Ranger Challenge team to compete, a team must have one female on a team of nine competitors.
“It’s a lot of physical fitness, but I think how we have created an environment where female Cadets do feel comfortable coming in,” Flom said. “It just comes back to everyone on the team just being very supportive about physical achievements.”
“Female, male, whatever, if you’re passionate about physical fitness, exercise, et cetera, … there’s really no better group of people to do it with than a Ranger Challenge.”
Follow Army ROTC to keep up with the 16 teams that will continue down the road to the Sandhurst Military Skills Competition, April 28-29, at the University States Military Academy at West Point. The University of Hawaii at Manoa and Oregon State University will represent 8th Brigade at Sandhurst after placing first and second respectively at the brigade competition.
1st Brigade Army ROTC
Virginia Military Institute
2nd Brigade Army ROTC
Rochester Institute of Technology
3rd Brigade Army ROTC
University of Iowa
4th Brigade Army ROTC
5th Brigade Army ROTC
Brigham Young University
University of Arkansas
6th Brigade Army ROTC
Embry Riddle Aeronautical University
University of Central Florida
7th Brigade Army ROTC
University of Notre Dame
Austin Peay State University
8th Brigade Army ROTC
University of Hawaii at Manoa
Oregon State University
Back to Army ROTC
Related: 8th Brigade Army ROTC Ranger Challenge 2023 Photo Gallery
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