Lehigh's ROTC cadets place second in annual three-day Ranger Challenge


Lehigh's ROTC cadets placed second in a competition which pitted 19 colleges and universities in Pennsylvania and eastern New Jersey against each other for the coveted Commander’s Trophy.

Lehigh University’s ROTC cadets recently placed second in the annual three-day Ranger Challenge competition that takes place every autumn at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pa.

This caps another year in a nearly two-decade tradition of placing third or better in the competition, which pits 19 colleges and universities in Pennsylvania and eastern New Jersey against each other for the coveted Commander’s Trophy.

In the university’s Second Brigade division, it placed second to Indiana University of Pennsylvania, and placed above Slippery Rock University.

Lehigh senior and team captain Aaron Raymar of Watchung, N.J. earned the additional honor of achieving the highest score for a male cadet throughout the Second Brigade.

“That’s quite an impressive honor,” says Major Darin Mills, who served as the Ranger Challenge team coach. “He scored higher in the physical fitness area out of all the 200 competitors out there.”

All told, Mills says, this year’s team put in an extraordinary effort to overcome lower scores early in the competition

“In very significant ways, this year’s team was better than last year’s, which finished first,” he says. “The maturity they showed in the face of adversity was very impressive to me. In the end, what I look for in our young officers is the ability to keep a clear head, focus on the task at hand and perform.”

Each year, the local “Steel Battalion” has a Ranger Challenge team, which competes against one another for the slots on the team that ultimately advances to the statewide competition, explains Cadre Lieutenant Colonel Charles McClung, department chair and professor of military science.

In that role, McClung is charged with recruiting and training officer candidates through the Reserve Officer Training Course (ROTC) at Lehigh, and at 12 other local colleges and universities. He leads a staff of six military personnel, two government contractors, two government civilians and one university employee.

A highly motivated group

Currently, McClung is overseeing the progression of 78 students in the ROTC program locally, including 28 students at Lehigh.

“The kids in this program are highly motivated, so the results of this year's competition don’t surprise me,” McClung says. “Overall, I’ve found that they’re more focused on what they want for the future, and have a tremendous drive to serve the nation and be a part of something much larger.”

Training for the Ranger Challenge event began in late August and continued through mid-October, Mills says. The Lehigh cadets trained five and sometimes six days a week from 5:15 to 7 a.m., with drills that included running over South Mountain weighed down with pounds of equipment, and calisthenics.

In the Ranger Challenge, cadets compete in nine events that include the Army physical fitness test (push-ups, sit-ups, and run), orienteering, M16 and 9mm pistol weapons disassembly and assembly, rifle and pistol marksmanship, a one-rope bridge cross, an obstacle course, a hand grenade assault course, a written patrolling exam and a 10K ruck run.

In the ruck run, cadets run or jog over a 10K run/jog over rough terrain carrying a rucksack that weighs anywhere from 35 to 50 pounds.

Mills cited the individual accomplishments of Alex Nickels ’09 of Bethlehem, who served as team sergeant, and Jennifer Lofaro ’09 of Gladwynne, Pa., who was the only female member of the team to finish the rucksack race carrying her own equipment.

“In that event, you’re allowed to hand off your equipment to someone else, and she opted not to do that,” Mills says. “Her performance was a great benefit to our team.”

He also had praise for Kutztown University juniors Shawn Dougherty and Ryan Peterson, who made every practice, despite the additional travel time.

“The fact that they were able to show up for practice every morning at 5:15 a.m. was nothing short of amazing, and it was inspiring to the rest of the team,” he says. “If you do the math, they were getting up and leaving before 4:30 each morning throughout the season to be here at Lehigh by 5:15. Their efforts should be applauded.”

Other members of this year’s team included: Lehigh students Craig Miller ’08, Joe D’Elia ’08, Alex Plotkin ’09, Eric Tombly ’10 and Shawn Camperson ’11, the only freshmen to make the competition team.

--Linda Harbrecht