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Among other schools in the region, Rutgers Army ROTC placed third out of 44 teams in this year’s Ranger Challenge — a week-long competition that tests competitors’ physical fitness, mental strength and teamwork.


Rutgers Army ROTC placed third out of 44 teams in their brigade at this year's Ranger Challenge, surpassing schools such as Penn State, Princeton and Northwestern along the way.

The varsity sport of ROTC, Ranger Challenge is a weekend-long, regional competition that tests competitors physical fitness, mental strength and teamwork through a variety of activities. Rutgers competed in the second brigade, against schools in the Northeast, at Fort Dix from Oct. 19 to 21.

In specific events this year, Rutgers placed first in land navigation and one-rope bridge and came in third in the obstacle course and ruck march events.

“You’re going 100 miles an hour for like the whole weekend,” said Nathaniel Onorato, a School of Arts and Sciences senior in the ROTC program and team captain.

He explained that teams are made up of 11 of the most physically fit and prepared cadets from each program, with nine primary members and others as backups. 

When the cadets got there Friday afternoon, they checked in before starting a physical fitness test that had them run a mile with a litter, a stretcher that would be used to carry someone who is injured, and every lap they did more weight was added. 

Jonathan Veliz, a School of Arts and Sciences senior in ROTC who also competed, said that at every stop to add weight the cadets had to do exercises, such as burpees.

On Saturday, Onorato said they woke up at 4 a.m. to get ready for a gear layout an hour later. Rutgers would go on to win the first event of the day, land navigation, also called orienteering, which ran from 6 to 8 a.m.

“They give you an eight-digit grid coordinate and using a protractor, a compass and a map, you have to find that point,” he said about the challenge.

Two members of the team had to take a written test to find the location of the points, while other members would search for the points, he said, all within the 2-hour time limit. The points were all weighted too, with higher value ones being harder to find and located farther away.

After that was a weapons assembly challenge, where all the team members were timed on how fast they could put together two M249’s, two M9's, which are pistols, and 11 M4's, Onorato said.

“What would happen is someone would get done with the M4 then help the guy out that’s on the 249 because it takes a little longer to assemble,” he explained.

Rutgers Army finished in 3 minutes and 3 seconds, but were penalized for not putting one of the weapons together properly, he said.

The next events were TC3, where they were given a simulated casualty and had to perform a checklist and then transport the casualty, and a hand grenade course. Onorato said every team had from when they finished land navigation at 8 a.m. until around 5 or 6 p.m. to hit all five of those events.

The Rutgers cadets then took a 15-minute break to recover before the one-rope bridge challenge, one they had not won since 1989, he said.

“Real life application, let’s say you had two trees on the opposite sides of like a river bed, you’d send one guy across tie the rope on one side, everyone else would tie it on the near side and that's how you’d get across,” he said.

With a time of 7 minutes and 10 seconds, Rutgers won that competition. Veliz and Onorato agreed that it was because of them practicing a lot: everyday.

Onorato said the team was training specifically for the Ranger Challenge since school started, and they would start their days at around 5:15 a.m. before having their general ROTC physical training at 6:30 a.m.

They did a lot of training at Buccleuch Park, Veliz said, between running drills and practicing technical skills such as the one rope bridge.

After that event the ROTC teams went through an obstacle course that Rutgers placed third in, and a tug of war, before calling it a day. Onorato said that Sunday morning there was another gear layout and then a ruck march, before the award ceremony.

Onorato said their success resonated. 

Former Rutgers cadets now in the army have been reaching to out him and have said, “Hey, tell everyone I said good job, that’s awesome, proud of you guys,” he said.                 

They have a younger team, and Veliz and Onorato both said they think future cadets can build on the success they had this year.

Each team that places first in a brigade goes on to an international competition at West Point in the spring.

“We barely missed it this year, but hey they’ll probably get it in future years,” Veliz said. “They’ll see like how well we did this year and they’ll be so motivated, hopefully, to take it as far in the coming years.”

Ryan Stiesi

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