For the past several months, cadets in Boise State’s army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) program have met every weekday morning at 6 a.m. to train for the annual East Region ROTC Ranger Challenge, a military skills competition that pits 10 regional college ROTC teams against each other in friendly competition.
On Oct. 29, Boise State’s ROTC program will host the regional competition at the Idaho Army National Guard facilities at Gowen Field.
“These are our most talented cadets, both in our upper and lower classes, and they want to be able to compete with other teams and see who’s the best, much like sporting teams do,” said Lt. Col. Timothy A. Slemp, department chair of the ROTC program, which is housed within the School of Public Service.
Boise State’s Army ROTC program falls under the 8th ROTC Brigade at Joint Base Lewis McChord in Tacoma, Washington, along with 29 other university programs. Those 30 schools are divided into three separate regions. In the east region, nine schools will send their top cadets to compete – including Boise State. The winning team then will compete against the region’s two other winning teams, and that winning team will progress to the national Sandhurst Competition at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York.
When Boise State last hosted the challenge in 2014, the team won both regional competitions and progressed to Sandhurst, where they competed against 60 teams from the United States, Great Britain, Canada, Chile, Japan, South Korea, Germany and Qatar. The tasks teams are asked to complete vary from simple to complex. For instance, there is a standard physical fitness test – including push ups, sit ups, pull ups and a run – a medical skills test and a “ruck march” that involves teams wearing backpacks filled with 35 lbs of basic gear, traversing 6-8 miles in the fastest time possible.
“Besides physical fitness, we train key soldier tasks like land navigation, combat lifesaver tactics, obstacle courses, hand grenades, weapons assembly and disassembly, and rifle marksmanship,” explained cadet Kenny Overly, a senior majoring in computer science and the current Cadet Battalion Commander of Boise State’s Bronco Battalion. Overly is on the team competing in the Ranger Challenge.
“It’s a great way to see how a team operates together and solves problems together,” Lt. Col. Slemp said.
Boise State currently has 71 cadets in its Army ROTC program – and that number jumps to more than 190 when cadets from schools too small to form their own battalions are included. This includes cadets from Northwest Nazarene University, Idaho State University and Brigham Young University Idaho. The goal of the program is to produce officers for the Army Reserves, the National Guard or for active duty.
“Fifty-five to sixty percent of our cadets will end up going into active components,” Lt. Col. Slemp said. “That is why this is a leadership development program designed to take a college student and progressively develop their leadership skills so they’re prepared to lead, in uniform, a formation of soldiers. These are our primary leaders in the Army.”
Lt. Col. Slemp explained that any student can join ROTC and try it out without committing to join the Army until their junior year. At that point, students cannot proceed with ROTC unless they contract with the Army (some of whom may also be awarded an educational scholarship).
When speaking of the program, ROTC cadets often stress the discipline, responsibility and leadership it instills in them.
“Honestly, I joined because my roommate freshman year was enrolled in ROTC and I thought it would be a good way to make friends,” said Zachary Grenz, a senior majoring in business marketing. “I have family that has served in the military and knew that if I ever wanted to join, I would have full support. So I signed up, fell in love and never looked back … The most important skill that I have learned in ROTC is self- and task-management. Each cadet is given responsibility and the opportunity to rise or fall.”
While Grenz is not participating in this year’s challenge, he was part of the winning 2014 team and said being a cadet has afforded him opportunities to go to Burundi, Africa, to teach Burundian military officers English, and travel to Fort Knox, Kentucky, for training. Grenz currently is the lead cadet officer in charge of running the ranger challenge.
“ROTC has completely changed the dynamic of my college life,” Overly added. “I learned so much more about time management and responsibility than any job or any class has taught me. Even at the freshman level, cadets are still responsible for conducting physical training three times a week at 6 a.m., as well as learn how to be a average soldier in tactical missions. This exposure to military life and tactics are still a big responsibility, especially for a freshman being new to both college and ROTC.”