Chrisman BN Wins Ranger Challenge
Owning the Challenge
by Elisa Eiguren | uiargonaut.com
When running almost nonstop for five hours and 10 minutes, exhaustion is more of a mental than a physical drain, but Cadet Eric Fitzpatrick convinced himself and his teammates to keep going to a first place finish in the Army Ranger Challenge.
“It’s a team event and this year we had the best team … the best team chemistry, the best people on our team,” Fitzpatrick said.
Fitzpatrick, a University of Idaho senior in the Army ROTC program, was the UI Alpha team Ranger Challenge commander. The Ranger Challenge is an extreme test of endurance and as an experienced participant, Fitzpatrick said basically the only factor that determines who is selected for the team is physical condition.
“You have to have nine people on a team,” he said. “At least one female, one freshman, one sophomore, one junior and one senior, and the rest doesn’t matter. We looked at people who can run fast for long periods of time, pretty much whoever is in the best shape.”
The Ranger Challenge, held Oct. 8 and 9 at Fort Lewis in Tacoma, was comprised of 11 events: An Army physical fitness test, map reading test, land navigation test, a leaders’ reaction course, first aid test, a rope bridge challenge, situational awareness test, weapons assemble and disassemble, equipment inspection, a rucksack march and a mystery challenge. Participating teams included UI, University of Portland, University of Guam, Pacific Lutheran University and Washington State University. Except for the University of Guam, UI was the smallest university that attended the event, Fitzpatrick said.
“I’ve always thought (UI) is one of the better programs in the country,” he said. “The big thing people look at is how your school did in Ranger Challenge and we won against schools that are bigger than us and have more money than us.”
UI finished first with a time of 5 hours and 10 minutes, which was 15 minutes faster than the second-place team Portland and 25 minutes faster than the third-place team WSU. Fitzpatrick said he thought the UI Ranger Challenge teams were good enough to win each of his four years, but every time they performed poorly in one event, which led to defeat. The last time UI won the Ranger Challenge was in 2005, and the victory this year is his team’s chance to add to UI’s rich ROTC history and set a standard for the future.
The members of the 2011 UI Ranger Challenge team were Fitzpatrick, and cadets Peter Assante, Paul Schnieder, Levi Burgess, Chad Beach, Kyrsti Goebel, Aaron Davis and Steven Cleppe. At the start of the fall semester, team members started a new training regime to get in Ranger Challenge shape.
In addition to regular physical training (PT) during the week, team members also met on Saturdays for three to four hours for a relaxed training session specifically oriented toward Ranger Challenge. Two weeks before the challenge, they stepped up training one notch higher.
“Ranger Challenge would meet every day and do PT for 45 minutes, and then do a two and a half mile run, and then come back and do pushups and sit-ups until people couldn’t do them anymore,” Fitzpatrick said.
The changes in training were implemented as Fitzpatrick learned from his own experience and took advice from Sgt. Thomas VanOvermeer.
“Pretty much the main guidance I gave them was that I wanted them to do more ‘ruck’ marching,” VanOvermeer said. “The very first road march I caught up with them and saw that Fitzpatrick made them run the first mile carrying 30 pounds uphill, and that made me believe in their ability to do it this year.”
During the Ranger Challenge, cadets are fully equipped with a 35-pound rucksack load, vest, water and ammunition. The team “ruck” marched between each event, which added up to about 10 kilometers, and the entire course is approximately 10 to 12 miles long. VanOvermeer said a strong leader is vital in encouraging team members to perform to the best of their ability, and Fitzpatrick showed he was capable.
“His ability to motivate them and keep them going and push beyond what they thought their limits are was the key,” VanOvermeer said.
In order to win, they also needed a girl who won’t stop running.
“A big chunk comes down to how fast the female is and how willing she is to push herself,” Fitzpatrick said. “It’s finding a female who can run really fast and is willing to run nonstop with people who are faster than her and run through that mental pain.”
Kyrsti Goebel said she hadn’t even been back in Idaho for 24 hours when Fitzpatrick contacted her and asked her to be part of the Ranger Challenge team.
“I’d always heard about it before and it sounded super, super hard,” she said. “When we did our practice rucks, me and the other girl counted and one of their steps was three of our steps.”
Goebel said she was nervous she wasn’t fast enough to be part of the team, but her teammates motivated her to keep going even when she thought she couldn’t. As the slowest runner on the team, Goebel’s teammates let her set the pace and ran alongside her, lifting her ruck off her back to carry the weight along with their own. During the five hours it took to complete the course, Fitzpatrick said they stopped running three times at the most.
“It was the hardest thing I have ever had to do,” Goebel said. “I’m so much slower than the guys and it’s mentally defeating, like I’m letting my team down.”
After talking to the other women in the challenge, Goebel said her teammates were especially supportive. Even though she felt like she was running through tar, her team was there to mentally carry her through the competition.
Developing the concept of teamwork is one objective of the Ranger Challenge.
“The underlying factor, especially for the freshmen and sophomores, is to be around juniors and seniors to intermingle and learn and develop,” VanOvermeer said. “For juniors and seniors who are getting ready to commission it’s about identifying the quality traits in people and building a team and making it cohesive.”
And of course when it’s all said and done, everyone likes to win and that’s why we compete in the challenge, VanOvermeer said.
One of the main reasons for UI’s success was the fact that they decided to focus on a few specific events instead of the challenge as a whole, in particular the rope challenge and ruck marching. Their dexterity in these events gave them the edge they needed to win by a margin of 15 minutes.
“They weren’t the best at everything but they were really good at everything,” VanOvermeer said. “Some teams were the best at something but they weren’t that good at anything else.”
Although the Ranger Challenge is an admirable accomplishment, Fitzpatrick and VanOvermeer have their sights set even higher.
Based on their performance at the Ranger Challenge, Fitzpatrick said the UI team might be selected to compete in the Sandhurst Competition at West Point — a competition that is a step above the Ranger Challenge because of its international notoriety. Only one American team has ever won Sandhurst.
“I’m hoping for a chance,” he said. “That’s all we’re asking. I don’t think we would disappoint anyone if we went.”