Clarksville, TN – The Austin Peay State University (APSU) Ranger Challenge team entered the 7th Brigade ROTC Bold Warrior Challenge awards ceremony confident their performance had propelled them to the top or runner-up spot of the competition.
“They announced all the winners of the events first,” team co-captain Walt Higbee said. “That’s when we didn’t think we had won because we won only two events and Ohio University, Louisville and Michigan State won more.”
Organizers then announced the third-place overall winner: Ohio University. And runner-up Louisville. The room started buzzing, anticipating Michigan State, which had won the most individual events, was about to win.
“In my head, I thought, ‘We were not prepared,’” co-captain Daniel Cole recalled. “We all thought it was going to be Michigan State.”
Then the announcement came: “The winner of the 2019 Bold Warrior Ranger Challenge is awarded to none other than Austin Peay State University.”
The win is the first for Austin Peay at the Bold Warrior Challenge, and it qualifies the team for the second straight time for West Point’s Sandhurst 2020 competition. APSU will be one of 16 ROTC teams at Sandhurst, the world’s premier academy-level military skills competition.
“I cannot begin to express how impressed I am with our team and how well they represented APSU this past weekend,” said Lt. Col. Eric A. Westphal, professor of military science. “Simply put, they outworked all other teams and truly set the example for all others to follow.”
Preparing for the torrents of rain
The Bold Warrior Challenge October 25th-27th at Fort Knox, Kentucky, was a grueling two-day competition. Austin Peay State University defeated 37 schools from Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio.
Austin Peay State University won the competition by earning 1,071 points out of a possible 1,500 points. APSU earned about 50 points more than Louisville. Michigan State finished fourth.
“We knew the bad weather was coming,” Cole said. “We knew we were going to do this with these people going here doing A, B, C. We knew how we were going to attack it.”
Two things impressed Westphal most:
- The team’s focus and ability to “deconstruct each challenge in order to accomplish every task the smart way versus just powering through.”
- The team’s cohesion and attitude set it apart.
“They were motivated from minute one, proving that even in terrible weather and excruciating pain, as a team they can achieve anything,” Westphal said. “This principle is exactly what we teach here at ROTC. These young leaders are the epitome of what it takes to be U.S. Army officers.”
Four-mile ruck run in the downpour proves tough
The competition challenged teams with distance runs, sprints, mental tests, route mapping, swimming relays, other physical feats and Army training drills.
On the first night, for example, the teams had to run a relay that covered more than 14 miles. One cadet, Thomas Porter, who’s also on Austin Peay State University’s cross country team covered 14 miles in two hours by himself before subbing out. Other teams subbed for the duration of the run.
The hardest task, Higbee said, came at the start of the second day when teams had to do a four-mile ruck run while fully equipped (adding about 40 pounds).
Another difficult task was the rope bridge. Austin Peay State University arrived in the pouring rain after 15 teams had maneuvered the bridge. Mud caked the area and bridge.
“There were a lot of things happening that could have been a recipe for disaster, but we probably finished second or third in the event.”
Conquering the mountains at Sandhurst
The team finished runner-up at last year’s Bold Warrior, earning its first-ever invitation to the Sandhurst competition where it finished eighth among the country’s ROTC programs. Seven of the 11 members who competed at Sandhurst returned this year, which will give the team some advantage over those new to the competition.
The team will start training in earnest in January, but Higbee said he’s going to seek out expert advice about training for the mountainous terrain at West Point, which caught the team off guard last time.
“We definitely know what to expect this time,” Cole said.
To learn more about the APSU ROTC program, go to www.apsu.edu/rotc. To learn more about the Sandhurst Military Skills Competition, go to www.westpoint.edu/military/department-of-military-instruction/sandhurst.
‘Shepherd and the Sheep’
Westphal described one of the Bold Warrior events in detail as follows:
“Favorite quote from the team leader, Cadet Daniel Cole, this weekend. When preparing to execute one of the stations, ‘The Shepherd and the Sheep’ station, the station facilitator asked Cadet Cole, ‘Who is the leader, who is the shepherd?’ Cadet Cole responded with certainty and a determined voice, ‘I am the shepherd, they are the sheep!’
“The event or task was that everyone on the team entered a large corral set up in the woods except for Cadet Cole. Each team member put a bag over their heads and spun around in circles until told to stop. Then Cadet Cole had to guide them out using only his voice.
“They won this event as it took Cadet Cole no time whatsoever to figure out the best way to accomplish this task.
“Cadet Cole was a true leader during the weekend events and never faltered. Smart and methodical in approach. He listened to feedback from his team, but when it was time to make a decision, he made it with authority and led his team to victory.
“To note, assistant or co-captain Cadet Walter Higbee was equally impressive as the two worked hand in hand together to ensure the team always was eating, hydrating and preparing for what was next. Together they kept things light until it was time to execute with violence of action.”