Class of 2005
I stood on the sidelines, watching my teammates receive the first place trophy at the Ranger Challenge competition. I could not help but feel joy for their success. I knew they had earned it. Or, I should say, “we” had earned it. Even though I did not get to compete, I considered myself part of the team.
I am a cadet in the Army’s Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) at Wheaton College. Ranger Challenge is the “competitive sport” of ROTC, culminating in a tough regional competition. Wheaton College sends two teams, the A team (varsity) and the B team (junior varsity) to compete against more than twenty colleges and universities in the Great Lakes region. The competition consists of a physical fitness test, a demanding land navigation course, various tests of military skills, and a six-mile run in full gear with a forty-pound backpack. It is quite demanding, both physically and mentally. The competition requires weeks of grueling preparation.
I tried out for the Ranger Challenge teams last year even though I did not have the time and natural physical gifts essential for success in Ranger Challenge. At the beginning, most cadets could do more push-ups, do more sit-ups, and run faster than me – the very criteria the Army uses to judge physical fitness. The others, mainly seniors and individuals with prior military service, had the technical knowledge and skills that I lacked. On top of this, I had the most difficult academic semester of my college career ahead of me with an above average class load consisting of difficult courses.
Nonetheless, I desperately wanted to compete on the team. I dragged myself out of bed every morning at five thirty and worked out hard for two hours before going straight into mental focus at class. I spent what little free time I had learning and refining my soldier skills for Ranger Challenge. As the amount of light in the mornings dwindled, so did the number people vying for a spot on the team. Some quit and others got cut. However, I stuck with it. I began to notice those who could once outdo me in the physical aspects of training now fell behind. The cadets who had taught me how to tie all the knots and disassemble a weapon now took more time than me to do such tasks.
A few weeks before the competition the instructors ranked the potential competitors. I ended up the tenth highest ranked person on the list, one spot away from making the A team, and statistically the top individual on the B team. Unlike prior years, the decision of who would make the two respective teams proved difficult, forcing minor differences to tip the scales. I saw these inconsequential differences and realized that the B team had a realistic chance of beating the A team at the competition if we put in extra work. I spent hours preparing an outline for my team of the infantryman’s manual – the subject of the most important event at the competition. The diligence paid off since all members of the B team became infantry experts.
The final two weeks before competition I unified our team. Every morning I reminded my team that victory was attainable. We were now a finely-oiled machine. Nothing could break our cohesion, at least until the day before we left to compete. I’ll never forget the sinking feeling when the Commandant of Cadets informed me I was being “bumped up” to the A team as an alternate. One member of the A team had tendonitis in his knee, and another had an upper respiratory infection. Chances were great that I would have to fill in.
As it turned out, the sick and injured cadets competed. I was only needed for one event and spent nearly the entire weekend as a cheerleader. At first I thought that all the training, all the pain, and all the lost sleep was for nothing. But I soon realized that wasn’t the case. Life certainly isn’t fair. I won’t always be rewarded or even recognized for my hard work. Sometimes life calls me to sacrifice personal wants for a higher calling. As I watched the B Team receive the first place trophy, I knew in my heart that I was an integral part of the team’s success. I had surpassed my own expectations and helped bring out the best in others. And that’s reward enough.