JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. – Muscles fatigued, abs twitching and fingers slipping, the cadet struggles to lift her worn boots over the pull-up bar for the fifth time. Staring forward, with time quickly slipping away, a new found burst of energy propels her legs up as her heels slap together just over the top of the bar.
“Six,” the score keeper shouts.
Jumping down from the bar to allow a teammate to take over, the cadet bends over in an attempt to catch her breath. She’s already tired, but this is just the beginning of the day’s challenges.
After two days of competition, Erin E. Cannon and her team from Gonzaga University’s ROTC program, exhausted, sweating, and sore, have been pushed to their limits in hopes of earning a chance to compete in the Sandhurst competition, an even tougher international challenge at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y.
“Well right now I’m feeling pretty tired,” said Cannon after the competition. “We worked together really well today. I am very proud of that.”
Cannon arrived at Joint Base Lewis-McChord not knowing what to expect from this year’s Ranger Challenge, a competition pitting teams from Gonzaga, California Polytechnic State University and the University of Hawaii against one another.
“This is a culminating event, we have 30 schools in the 8th Brigade in Army ROTC, and we’ve had three sub competitions in three different areas over the fall, one is Spokane, Wash., one in California, and one in Oregon,” said Col. John A. Kelly, 8th ROTC brigade commander. “The winners of each of those events are here to determine first, second and third place.”
The two day event began with a stress shooting competition on Jan. 25 and transitioned into a ruck march with 10 stations the following day. The stations contained military tasks and scenarios designed to test the cadets’ physical fitness and mental agility.
“The competition focuses on many military skills, both individual and collective, where they have to practice to master these skills and then come and apply them here in this environment,” said Kelly. “We have put in some variables that try to force them to be creative and critical in their thinking as they negotiate several of these obstacles.”
Cannon said the training and competition on the first day was challenging for her and teammates because of their unfamiliarity with actual military ranges.
The cadets received hands on training from JBLM’s warrior training academy, starting with zeroing their weapons and leading up to the shooting competition. The teams had to maneuver between three different sets of barricades while engaging targets from 100 to 150 meters away.
“It was interesting that it pulled targets out further and further because we’ve always qualified on a 25 meter target,” said Cannon. “To be able to shoot out to that far was a lot of fun and a good learning experience.
“I’ve never had that much hands-on instruction at a range,” she added.
“The range the warrior training academy ran was phenomenal because of the opportunity for our cadets to see firsthand proper training and what a real range was like,” said Kelly. “Feedback from the WTA indicated that they were very impressed with the level of training of the cadets in cadet command.”
Day two of the competition began with the cadets ready to go before the sun had an opportunity to rise and dissipate the chill of the early morning hours.
Beginning with a cross fit style work-out, followed by nine other military tasks and scenarios dotted all around North Fort Lewis, the cadets tackled everything from first aid at a mass casualty site to constructing a rope bridge in order to transport themselves, and their equipment, across a frigid stream.
But because the Cadets were given very little information about the events at this year’s competition, their biggest challenge was the unknown.
“The mystery added a difficult element because we didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into,” said Cannon. “We didn’t really know what the events were going to entail so it was more of a challenge.”
“The schools have come a long way and there’s no time to get acclimated, they have hit the ground running, and they compete, so it’s pretty impressive,” said Kelly. “They’ve trained hard and prepared hard, and they are all excited and they all want to win.”
Win or lose, Kelly said that there was more to the competition than being victorious and it was important to help the cadets recognize that they can overcome and adapt to any obstacle.
“I hope the Cadets get a sense of pride, a sense of accomplishment, all of their hard work paying off and that they had a firm, fair but tough competition that absolutely pushed them to their limits,” said Kelly.
But only one team could come out on top, and the team from the University of Hawaii was announced as the winner of the competition in a ceremony after the three teams finished the course.
Even though her team failed to win the competition, Cannon said she learned a lot about herself and her team during the competition.
“You really get close to your teammates and learn how to push each other and work together,” she said. “The best part was running with my team and knowing that we are all going to make it and finish the competition together, working together to pull out the last bit of effort that everyone had.”
Kelly said that the planning for the next best Ranger competition is already underway and that he hopes to expand the role JBLM plays in the future.
“Next year, in October, I want to bring all 30 teams here to JBLM, and run one event instead of having the sub-events,” said Kelly. “We had great support from the instillation, and 1st Corp and we hope to continue that in the future.”