The University of Alabama’s Army ROTC Ranger Challenge team will return to West Point this week a younger but equally motivated team.
Only five cadets return from last year’s team that reached Sandhurst – an international Military Skills Challenge competition at the United States Military Academy – for the first time in school history.
The team will compete at West Point April 13 and 14.
More than half of the 14 cadets on this year’s team are either freshmen or sophomores. The team’s commander, cadet David Edwards, is in his first year of competition.
Coincidentally, the inexperience and turnover have provided a boost in training and in competition, Edwards said.
“Freshmen cadets like Emily Costanza and Charlton Epperson aren’t afraid to try things new because they’ve never seen any of it done before,” Edwards said. “Having that experience is good for soldiering skills, but it can sometimes blind you to thinking through things. Having fresh eyes is helpful. And they’re always here in good spirits – if a freshman is in good spirits and working hard, upperclassmen will follow.”
Edwards said younger cadets have paired well with older cadets like Jordan Pieczynski, who attended the Army’s Northern Warfare School last year and learned many of the mountaineering knots that were used in competitions this year, and Terry Hancock, a prior enlisted member, has helped teach tactical and basic solder skills.
UA won its Brigade Ranger Challenge Competition, a 10-team regional against universities from Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Mississippi, in January at Camp Blanding in Florida. Edwards said UA won “by a few pushups” and was aware the competition was coming down to the wire, but the cadets didn’t blink. He said the team has routinely overcome its own mistakes with strong performances.
“The biggest pressure we felt this year was to do the same or better by reaching West Point,” Edwards said.
UA will compete at Sandhurst against other regional winners, teams from West Point and cadets from across the world in a variety of events, including fitness, weapons qualification, hand grenade assault course, and casualty care over a 30+ mile long rugged course while carrying a forty-pound load.
Sandhurst is a more grueling competition than the previous two rounds, and UA is the only school of its previous brigade winners to finish the competition. State and brigade rounds were revamped to better reflect the Sandhurst competition, including foot-marching to different events, which forces cadets to be more flexible, and think and act quicker, Edwards said.
Training has also been tailored to better simulate the competition formats.
“We do a lot of stress events, heart exercises … then we try to throw some critical thinking events at them,” Edwards said. “Something as simple as plotting a point on a map, or maybe giving them a situation where they get back from a run and find their rucksack tied in knots with another cadet’s gear, forcing them to work together to figure it out.”
The UA Ranger Challenge cadets are Emily Maier-Costanza, of Walnut Creek, California; Charlton Epperson, of Charlotte, North Carolina; David Edwards, of Glen Allen, Virginia; Conner Salisbury, of Lorton, Virginia; Garrett Preston, of Jacksonville; Jordan Pieczynski, of Pickerington, Ohio; Terry Hancock, of Kissimmee, Florida; Bailey Connor, of Sumter, South Carolina; Mike Boster, of Piperton, Tennessee; Joey Riggs, of Vinemont; and Andy Harper, of Katy, Texas.