Members of East Tennessee State University’s Army ROTC cadet Ranger team had no clue they had performed well enough in the recent Bold Warrior Challenge to take the top spot until the scores had been tallied and announced.
“It was a lot of surprise, a lot of surprise,” said Cadet George Ford, thinking back to the realization sinking in that his team had won. “I want to say a couple of us looked at each other in disbelief.”
Bold Warrior is the major competition for the ROTC 7th Brigade held in each October. This competition tests more than 5,000 cadets’ skills, military knowledge, physical fitness, mental toughness and grit; basically, all the things necessary on a battlefield.
This win, a first for ETSU, is similar to a collegiate football team making it to the top 16, said Master Sgt. Matthew Goodine, the coach and adviser for ETSU’s Ranger team.
ETSU’s win means the Ranger team will go to the Sandhurst Military Skills Competition to be held in April at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. This competition will include teams from Britain, Spain, Germany, Chile, Canada, Australia and China.
“It’s (Sandhurst) probably the premier international cadet competition,” Goodine said. “So these nations will send the best cadets they have in their nations to compete at this event. So to get onto that playing field, I think, is pretty impressive, from, you know, a regional school in Northeast Tennessee.”
The ROTC 7th Brigade has programs in Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan and, of course, Tennessee. Ranger teams from all these states competed in Bold Warrior. ETSU sent a team of 11 cadets.
Competition is tough and includes land navigation, rucking (or carrying large amounts of supplies fast in a rucksack), hand grenade assault courses, a one-rope bridge, Zodiac water obstacle and a resupply operation for the relatively short distance of a couple miles.
Cadet Morgan Smith fulfilled two Ranger team composition requirements by being a freshman and female.
In fact, she was the only female on the Ranger team.
“Making the actual team was obviously pretty cool to do as a freshman,” she said. “And then getting to go and compete. I was really nervous to go, but once I got there it’s nothing you haven’t seen before.”
Alex Dayton, a sophomore cadet, said the team went into Bold Warrior this year trying to beat their third-place showing from 2011.
“Last year we came in third and that was kind of an eye-opener that made us kind of think, ‘Hey, you know, we might be able to actually get on the map and win it next year,’ ” Dayton said.
So for this year’s competition the team began training hard as soon as school started. The competition includes overall awards and individual awards for each mission. The ETSU team did not win any of the individual missions, so they were not expecting to do too well in the overalls.
But they did well enough in everything to take the top spot.
That is no small feat, not only because of the sheer number of participants, but also because of the effort involved in finding suitable training equipment and locations, Goodine said.
For instance, Austin Peay State University’s ROTC program is basically right outside the front door of Fort Campbell, Ky., Goodine said, which means it is easy for those cadets to train.
For ETSU, the nearest military post is Fort Jackson, S.C., 3½ hours away.
“So the challenge here is to be able to train at everything,” Goodine said.
For Bold Warrior, Goodine said ETSU placed in the top 10 percent for a few missions and was in the top 25 percent in everything. That broad success led to the victory.
To get experience in each event, the Rangers had to drive six hours to Fort Knox, Ky., to get a boat to bring back to Northeast Tennessee to train. This was only for one day’s use, but Goodine said it made all the difference in success and failure on that particular competition.
“There’s a certain amount of finding the resources that you’ve got to put into this,” Goodine said.
ETSU’s ROTC program has been successful in more than the Bold Warrior in recent years.
During a typical year there are three competitions ETSU participates in: Xavier University’s Best Ranger, the Mountain Man Memorial March sponsored by the University of Tennessee and Bold Warrior.
At Xavier last year cadets did well. ETSU is the defending champion of the Mountain Man March.
Goodine hopes to continue success yearly at Sandhurst, so 15 cadets are diligently training for this prestigious event.
“Since 1967 no ROTC team has won this competition, so hopefully we’ll be the first,” Goodine said.