Cadets from USD’s ROTC team won first place in the annual Task Force Ranger Challenge at Camp Ripley, MN on Oct. 20, marking a historic achievement for the program.
Dan Sundberg, chair of the military science department, said the last time USD’s program won the Task Force Ranger Challenge competition was in 1990.
“This is a yearly competition that’s meant to test their strength, knowledge, endurance, teamwork,” he said. “We compete in this every year. Last year we came in dead last, and then the last time I think that we won was 1990.”
Because of their first-place finish at Camp Ripley, the team will compete in the Brigade Ranger Challenge in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri this weekend.
The team consisted of nine cadets and two alternates. USD’s team competed against other ROTC cadets from 7 other schools: the University of North Dakota, North Dakota State University, South Dakota State University, South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, Mankato State University, University of Minnesota Twin Cities and St. John’s University.
Tanner Smith, a junior social work major and captain of the team, said the two-day competition consisted of many different physically and mentally intensive events, including a physical fitness test, a written test and marksmanship competition on the first day.
“The second morning, we woke up and we competed in a 10K ruck march. After that, we had an inspection and then we were handed a map and grid coordinates, we were supposed to go find certain points throughout the base,” Smith said. “We went through a hand grenade course, a one-rope bridge course… and then we had weapons assembly, so we had a variety of weapons we had to take apart and reassemble, which was timed.. we had a mystery event which was how far you could throw a medicine ball behind your head.”
Smith said the team began preparing in September by practicing the types of events they would encounter in the actual competition.
Raeann Patrick, a sophomore nursing major and one of two women on USD’s team, said their victory at the competition was special to her because she was unsure of what to expect.
“For most of (the other teams), there was just one female on the team as well, so I thought it was pretty cool,” Patrick said. “It was a little intimidating, just because the guys are up on their level, and then you kind of have to step up your game then.”
Smith said the team’s win was shocking.
“It was really close, we won by one point against St. John’s, which is the powerhouse among all the teams,” he said. “I think it helped that we came in there and no one was nervous. Everyone just came in relaxed, we had no expectations; we were just going there to try our best and see what happened.”
Sundberg said the victory was due to the group’s teamwork.
“They weren’t the fastest, they weren’t the strongest, they didn’t have the best score on the smart part, but they used common sense and worked together as a team, there was no dissension within the ranks and it was awesome,” Sundberg said.
The win will help the team have “momentum” going forward in the program and in their careers, Sundberg said.
“It reinforces that we come from a small school with a very small ROTC program, yet we have cadets that are just as smart, as capable, as experienced with the resources and facilities that are the same thing that every other school has,” he said. “This proves that they can accomplish anything, and when they get deployed abroad to take on America’s adversaries, they know that they have within them to win.”
Sundberg said he hopes the team’s victory will help USD’s ROTC program deal with challenges they’ve faced in the past several years.
“This program hasn’t been viable for five years, which means we haven’t met our mission for commissioning 10 cadets, we’ve underperformed,” he said. “So I think this win will help with that recruiting, I hope.”
Jake Preble, a senior business major and a member’s of this year’s team, said he also believes the victory will help the program with recruiting new cadets.
“I’m hoping it kind of inspires people to look into our program, and I’m hoping it inspires some of our younger cadets to participate a little more so that we can continue to build a strong team,” Preble said. “It’s definitely a recruiting tool.”
Sundberg said the team’s first-place finish was priceless.
“I’ve been in the army for 15 years, I’ve been to 30 different countries on 6 different continents, I’ve been deployed five times and I tell you what, this was one of the coolest things that I’ve ever seen,” he said. “To see these guys come together as a team and the looks on their faces when they won… it was something I’ll never forget.”