By Melissa Engle/Contributing writer
For the first time since1986, Eastern’s ROTC cadets brought home the coveted Ranger Challenge Cup this weekend at the annual 3rd Brigade Ranger Challenge Competition in Fort Knox.“The past two years we were right there at what I like to call the glass ceiling,” said Lt. Col. Brett Morris. “We placed sixth out of 30 teams, but this year we were able to break through and take home first.”
Eastern’s team was able to beat 35 other teams coming from universities in Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee. Eastern took three teams, referred to as Alpha, Bravo and Charlie. Each team participated in 18 hours of non-stop competition involving eight events. The Alpha team brought home the first place trophy. Of the eight events, the team took home first place in rifle marksmanship and one-rope bridge construction.
The morning wake-up call came at 3:30 a.m. for the Colonel’s Battalion. This day tested the 10-person team’s skill, strength, determination, teamwork and endurance.
“I’d compare this to maybe like winning the OVC,” said senior Cadet Capt. Scott Jolman, from Zeeland, Mich. “It’s just that big for us.”
The morning’s first event was the Army physical fitness test, in which a perfect score is 300. To score perfect, cadets must complete 75 push-ups in two minutes, 82 sit-ups in two minutes and complete a two-mile run in less than 13 minutes. Cadet Mike Dargavell scored a 344, adding to the team average of 312.
Then there was the land navigation course, where teams had 80 minutes to locate 13 points, given the coordinates and a map. They were to find the spots, write down answers posted on markers and return to the point of origin. They covered four to five miles, sprinting the entire course to cover it in the allotted time.
They also had to clear, disassemble, assemble and perform function checks on their M-16 combat assault rifles in less than 60 seconds. They continued with the basic rifle marksmanship, where they were required to shoot silhouette targets from a distance of 25 meters.
The one-rope bridge was next on the agenda. The teams were given 120 feet of rope and required to build a bridge over 50 feet wide and 5 feet deep. Once again, time was of the essence. One person had to swim to the creek and tie the rope to a pole on each side of the bank. Each member had to cross the bridge while hanging suspended upside down across the rope, carrying their load bearing equipment, rucksack and weapon — about 80 pounds.
They still had the hand grenade assault course and patrolling left. When teams patrolled, they were to set up an ambush on unfamiliar territory. But the toughest event, claimed by all, was the “ruck run.” It’s a six-mile road march where the team must run the entire six miles wearing their LBE, rucksack and carrying their weapon and their unit guidon (flag).
Teams must sprint up an infamous hill known throughout the Army as “Agony.” Agony is a 35-degree slope that the Colonels referred to as “about two-thirds of the way up you think you are coming to the top of it, but then it turns to the right and you still can’t see the crest. That’s the agony of it.”
“The ruck run was the hardest part of the entire challenge,” said Ryan Knapp, a junior from Elizabethtown. “We motivated ourselves when we were tired and ready to stop by saying, ‘We’re doing this for coach B. (Master Sgt. Dean Barnhart).’ We’d be going up the hill and be saying, ‘We’re Barnharting up the hill.’ It just gave us another sense of determination.” Barnhart is the team’s coach and a veteran of special operations.
Eastern’s team beat Xavier for first place by completing the ruck run in 1:02. Xavier took second place in 1:03. The group finished their weekend by participating in the awards ceremony Sunday morning.
“Walking down to get our trophy, you could feel the jealousy fill the room,” said Chris “Tex” Mulholland, a junior from Georgetown. “Everybody there worked so hard to get there, but we were the best. But the best part of the weekend I’d have to say would be the friendship. We put everything aside and worked together and formed a bond. If I was going off to fight a war, I’d want these guys standing right beside me.”