Photo courtesy of Tarleton State University Texan Battalion - Army ROTC
The Tarleton State University ROTC program recently traveled to Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas, where they not only competed in, but won first and second place in the prestigious Ranger Challenge. The Ranger Challenge, often described as the varsity sport of ROTC, is a two and a half day competition in which members are put to the test through several different events such as: a night land navigation test, a call for fire, a physical fitness test that includes a two mile run, two minutes of push-ups, sit-ups and also pull-ups, and then several round robin events that hone the technical skills of the ROTC members.
Tarleton sent two teams to the Ranger Challenge; both with hopes of defending the championship that they won last year. The competition however would test the physical and mental strength of specifically the first team, team Rudder. The sheer resilience and determination of the team is what allowed them to once again walk away as victors. After missing a time deadline in the first night of competition during one of the heaviest point weighted events, the night land navigation, team Rudder went from the front of the pack to the very back, knowing that they would need to place very high in the rest of the events in order to have a shot at winning the challenge. Each event was a slow crawl back to the top. “The moral of the team never failed,” said platoon seargent Nick Bonicoro, “we told them what we needed to do and everyone was very serious and on the ball.” Going into the last day and a half of competition, team Rudder had a 22-point spread from them to the first-place team which was close to the equivalent of two complete events. Forcing them to need to be practically flawless through the end of the competition. Team Rudder came through with tenacity and finished second in two of the events and first in everything else the last day of competition.
“The second team, team Dyess, was the epidemy of consistency,” stated Captain Stapay, one of the ROTC coaches.
The lowest they placed in an event was fifth place. Team Dyess exceeded all expectations that were set for them going into the competition as they finished in ninth place the year before.
Chris Mazzochhi, a sophomore on the team, stated that “we hated seeing team Rudder down, but on the flip side of that, we are all competitors and I saw it as an opportunity. The neck and neck race between us is what made this my favorite Ranger Challenge so far.”
Having a second team at the competition is a feat in itself as most schools do not have the depth in their program to do so.
From a coach’s perspective, Stapay stated that, “what saved the team is that they were so well rounded in all of the events, the teams took every single event and mastered the trades, the way team Rudder was able to crawl back was because of the technical events in the round robin competitions, the guys were experts in every single event.”
Stapay also stated that this was the tightest Ranger Challenge he had seen. Another advantage that the teams had was in the leadership. Both coaches, MSG Gilmer and Captain Stapay, have competed in The Best Ranger Competition in the Army which is what the Ranger Challenge is somewhat mirrored after. It is rare to see competitors from The Best Ranger Competition as instructors and even more rare to have two at the same school. The coaches took the experiences they had in the army and used that in order to help prepare both team Rudder and team Dyess.
Each team consists of 11 members that have gone through a tryout process and met the highest physical standards and embody different leadership and character qualities. Preparing for a challenge like this was described as “a grueling process” by team member Tristan Garza. Between 15 and 18 hours of high intensity and specialty training a week goes into the process.
Freshman team member, Jacob Worley, was one of the members that made it through to tryout process which is during T-Week.
Worley stated, “it was mostly physical training, making sure we could keep up with the team, and not only how well we could physically maintain ourselves, but do you have the determination and heart to keep on going even when your body says you can’t do anymore.”
Bonicoro, weighed in on the tryout process from the leadership position. “the reason we have so much physical training for them is to see if they can maintain their composure when they are under all of that stress. We wanted to see who, under tremendous stress, with very little sleep and very tasking physical workouts, can not only keep everyone together, but could push through as a cohesive team.”
He described this year as the “best year of tryouts” that he has seen yet. Once through the selection week, the competition will hold no surprises for the new members as there’s not going to be anything that they haven’t yet experienced.
Members of team Rudder were Austin Laughlin, Nick Bonicoro, Adam Arata, John Zellner, Brittany Burch, Gabby Howes, Tristan Garza, Esias Ortiz, Layne Chidester, Justin Bray and Jacob Garcia. team Dyass consisted of Katie Kalil, Scout Lindsey, Luis Zamora, Kaleb Williams, Ryan Thomas, David Lingle, Jacob Worley, Chris Mazzocchi, Cameron Lehr, Justin Brunett and Ben Young.
The next stop on the march to a national championship is the Brigade at Camp Bullis in San Antonio, Texas on Nov. 2-4. In order to prepare for this competition, the teams plan to increase the physical training as the Brigade will be even more intense. Tarleton hopes to improve on the second place finish they had their last year.