Around Campus

Ranger Challenge Part I: The Training

Eleven UNC-Chapel Hill Army ROTC cadets trained 40 times over 53 days to participate in the Oct. 17-18 Ranger Challenge. As we celebrate Veterans Day – and all who have served and continue to serve our country – we tell and show their story.

Cadet Erik Kellomaki tightens a rope.
Cadet Erik Kellomaki, tightens a line for the one rope bridge in preparation for Ranger Challenge at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Waking up before daybreak to shrug on a rucksack, trek a couple of miles, complete a series of grueling training exercises and do another one- or two-mile loop may sound nightmarish to many college students.

To the cadets on Carolina’s Ranger Challenge Team, however, the routine is just another day of training.

The team of 11 cadets, all students in the UNC-Chapel Hill Army ROTC Tar Heel Battalion, began preparing for this year’s Challenge at the start of the fall semester.

“We had two types of training. We had physical workouts that would prepare us for the physical workout of the training,” said Lauren Stephenson, a senior and one of two team co-captains. “Then, we had event workouts that would train us for the different events that we would encounter on the course.”

Many of the students have been involved with the Ranger Challenge team since their first year at Carolina. Others like Carlos Cordero, who has served in the Army for nine years and transferred to UNC this year, followed nontraditional paths to join.

“As I transitioned from being a regular soldier to being a cadet, I figured that I needed to get the most out of this experience,” said Cordero, a Purple Heart recipient. “I wanted to stay fit and work out a little bit extra with these guys and build relationships, too.”

Strong relationships were built as the cadets gathered at 6 a.m. three times a week to prepare for the Ranger Challenge. And as they drew closer to the competition, trainings increased to five days a week of physical workouts – with specialized sessions on Fridays.

But for many of the cadets, one of the greatest challenges wasn’t the training itself – it was the act of balancing it with a full load of academic work and other extracurricular activities.

“I’m the S3 (operations officer) for our Battalion, so I plan and execute all of the training,” said senior John Benton. “And I’m also the pledge educator for my fraternity, so both of those are big commitments, and when you have to get up every morning and do school, too, it can take a toll on you.”

After all the hard work they had put in, the cadets were anxious to travel to Fort Pickett in Blackstone, Va., to compete in the main event Oct. 17-18.

And co-captain Tyler Miranda said he knew that, physically and mentally, the cadets were ready.

“I think honestly that, of the four years I’ve done it, I was the most confident about our team this year,” said Miranda, a senior. “It seems like everyone was really on top of their game and in really good shape, and everyone was a quick learner. I was just very confident in what we could do.”