By Capt. Olivia Cobiskey
GREAT LAKES, Ill. – Col. Dean P. Shultis has his eyes on the future.
When he took over the command of the 3rd Reserve Officers' Training Corps Brigade in Great Lakes, Ill., he knew he wanted to honor cadet alumni who sacrificed their lives during the past 10 years of war.
The challenge was named for two of the brigade’s 11 alumni who died in combat. Both University of Nebraska graduates, 1st Lt. Kevin J. Gaspers and Capt. Joel E. Cahill, were killed in Iraq.
“It’s really going to mean so much more to the cadets,” Shultis said of the inaugural Gaspers-Cahill Ranger Challenge. “Right now they compete against each other, but there’s no real connection other than it’s a Ranger Challenge. Now we’re going to connect them to all of these guys who died.”
Nearly all of the men being honored during this year’s 3rd ROTC Bde., Ranger Challenge, except maybe one, were Ranger Challenge competitors from schools in the brigade’s 10-state region prior to going on active duty, Shultis added.
“So, there’s really a connection with these heroes – it’s really these heroes’ shoulders we stand on as we go on in our program,” he said.
Annually, more than 300 universities nationwide have teams compete in a series of challenging events. Locally, cadets compete against teams within the 3rd ROTC Brigade region, which includes North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Montana, and Michigan.
Twelve teams from the upper Midwest will test their physical stamina and technical skills in the three-day event starting March 16, at Camp Dodge, Iowa. Five of the teams won their Task Force Challenges, two are “wild cards” – the top two-second place winners, and five are all-female teams.
The competition includes the Army Physical Fitness Test, a 10-kilometer road march, basic rifle marksmanship, orienteering, weapons assembly and disassembly, a grenade assault course and constructing a one-rope bridge.
“Each one of these events is named after one or more of the graduates from the schools in our brigade who died in combat,” Shultis said. “It’s also helped us re-connect with the families and loved ones of the guys who died; it’s really turned into a great event.”
One of those families includes Lt. Col. Paul R. Bartz. The night land navigation course was named for Bartz, who was commissioned in 1989 as a Reserve Officer. Bartz was killed, May 18, 2010, while serving with the 10th Mountain Division from Fort Drum, N.Y., when a suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive device exploded near his convoy in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Bartz’s wife, Michelle Bartz, said it meant a lot to see his name carried on to help inspire future leaders.
She said her husband learned his leadership philosophy in the ROTC program at the University of Wisconsin – Oshkosh, where cadets often cleaned the stadium after each game.
“It was a humbling experience,” said Michelle, who met her husband in the ROTC program. “It taught them that nothing, no job, was beneath them.”
It was a lesson he passed on to his soldiers.
“Paul had a leadership philosophy that he would share at the beginning of every new assignment and with every new person coming into the unit,” Michelle said, then read from her husband’s leadership book.
‘Each soldier has worth, from the highest to the lowest ranking soldier, everyone has value and meaning. Each soldier has some knowledge, ability, and talent, to utilize and contribute, to make this mission succeed.’
“After his death, fellow soldiers that he had worked with throughout his career let me know that his philosophy wasn’t just words said once in passing, but rather they were repeated over and over again and more importantly they were constantly demonstrated by his actions,” she said.
The name and spirit for the competition also honor the U.S. Army Ranger School at Fort Benning, Ga. Training for this event includes rigorous physical fitness workouts, information classes on various elements of light infantry tactics, and a weekend field training exercise where rifle marksmanship, rope-bridge, land navigation,10-kilometer road march and many more skills are tested.
The winning nine-person team will represent the 3rd Brigade in this year’s Sandhurst Competition, April 20-21, at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. They will compete against other U.S. Army Cadet Command teams, select teams from West Point, the U.S. Military Academy Preparatory School team, and international teams.
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