Lehigh ROTC placed third in the annual Ranger Challenge Competition on Oct. 14 and 15, 2017, at Fort Dix in New Jersey. Lehigh beat Penn State in the rope bridge challenge. (Courtesy of Mike Farmer)

Lehigh places third in annual ROTC competition despite setbacks

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After three gruesome, rainy days of physically demanding contests at the annual Ranger Challenge Competition on Oct. 13-15, it was finally the Lehigh ROTC troop’s turn to complete the last event: the one-rope bridge.

In this bout, competitors are required to tie a rope between two trees and send cadets from one side to the other. Although the cadets were not allowed to know the specific events they would have to perform prior to the competition, team captain Ryan Hunt, ’18, said the team time practicing the anticipated rope bridge.

At this point, Penn State’s troop was leading the games with no intention of slowing down. Lehigh was the final team to conquer the rope bridge, and it was their last opportunity to place.

“It felt like a buzzer-beater at the end,” Hunt said.

All of the practice was worth it when Lehigh ultimately won the challenge, beating Penn State by about eight seconds, Hunt said.

Because of that victory and the team’s successive achievements throughout the weekend, Dominique Voitek, ’20, said the team members were thrilled to find out they were in the tug-of-war event reserved for the top four teams.

The team is comprised of students from local colleges and universities, including Lafayette College. Seven of the 11 cadets are Lehigh students.

Lehigh eventually placed third, marking the first time the team has placed in eight years.

Despite the team’s success, the competition had its setbacks.

During the obstacle course, which Hunt said should have been one of the more accessible events, there were many rules and regulations on how the teams were supposed to complete the course.

These unexpected rules threw off the Lehigh cadets, causing them to place in the middle.

On Sunday morning, the opponents had to complete a loaded march. In this event, the cadets had to carry a stuffed 35-pound backpack, which they refer to as a “ruck,” for seven miles to the finish line.

This event was particularly challenging because, where in past years cadets were allowed to assist struggling teammates, that was not permitted this year.

This new regulation put a strain on individual cadets who had slight injuries, including Voitek, who hurt her ankle but had to push through the pain.

“(Hunt) was really good on making us focus on each event individually instead of the entire thing,” Voitek said.

Hunt said years ago Lehigh tried hard to train before and excel during the competition, usually placing first or at least in the top five. Over the last few years, however, he said the troop’s motivation has waned.

“In previous years, people cared but counted themselves out,” Hunt said. “They made excuses like ‘Penn State’s program is five times as large as ours.'”

Hunt said the team decided to “throw that mentality out the window” and entered the competition with more confidence.

In the past, the team had spent much of its preparation practicing overall strength training. This year, they focused on practicing potential events instead.

Voitek said participating in Lehigh’s ROTC program has helped her become a more well-rounded professional, leader and individual.

Hunt agreed ROTC pushes its cadets to be successful in all aspects, not just physically.

At the end of their university careers, cadets get a package that is essentially a resume of their time at college. If an individual achieves an outstanding GPA, they are rewarded many points on their resume.

Hunt said this encourages students to focus on their grades and stay “out of trouble.”

On top of physical and educational benefits, Voitek also appreciates her experience meeting new students throughout the program, as well as how well everyone works together. She said there are people she wouldn’t have gotten to know if it weren’t for the program, including students from other colleges.

“Everyone comes from such different backgrounds,” Voitek said. “We all use our different skills to work together as a team.”

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