KINGSTON, R.I., Oct. 20, 2014 – Have you ever tried assembling an M16 rifle while blindfolded? How about pushing a 3-ton Hummer a quarter-mile in a few minutes – or building a rope bridge across a roaring river?
Cadets in the University of Rhode Island’s Reserve Officer Training Corps proved that they have the right stuff in a recent Army ROTC 2nd Brigade Ranger Challenge Competition, finishing third out of 42 ROTC units in the Northeast – the best finish ever for URI.
Only Penn State and Rutgers University placed higher in the contest, held Oct. 11 and 12 at Fort Dix, N.J. URI also finished first among New England colleges.
“Our young men and women put in many extra hours of training and came away with an outstanding finish,” said Lt. Col. Ryan Whittemore, a professor of military science in URI’s ROTC program. “This year, we also established ourselves as the best program in New England, and we’ll continue to improve.”
The win shows that hard work pays off. In 2012, URI came in last among 44 colleges. There were improvements in 2013, with a ninth place finish. This year, the students worked even harder, giving up five Sundays in a row to train at Camp Fogarty in East Greenwich.
The ROTC program at URI involves students from the University, Roger Williams University and Salve Regina University. The program is known as Cramer’s Sabers Battalion, named after First Lt. Parker Dresser Cramer ’59, who was killed in action in Vietnam in 1963. He was the first alumnus to die in the Vietnam War.
Called the “varsity sport” of ROTC, the Ranger competition is an annual event that tests the physical and mental toughness of cadets, as well as their military skills. The contest also teaches cadets how to work as a team under great stress. Nine students were selected from the URI battalion to compete.
Events included throwing hand grenades while standing, kneeling and lying down, assembling weapons, navigating an obstacle course, doing as many pushups, sit-ups and pull-ups as possible in a minute, treating “wounded” soldiers, running a 10K while carrying combat equipment, pushing military vehicles across the terrain and building a rope bridge and then walking across it to retrieve fellow cadets.
For Vera Fedorenko, of Coventry, a URI senior majoring in political science, the hardest part was running from event to event, with heavy gear on her back.
“We barely had time to breathe,” she said. “It was very demanding. You don’t think you can do it, but then you do it. It’s all in the mind.”
She’s especially proud that the team placed first in the weapons assembly division. Besides the M16, the cadets had to put together the M249 light machine gun and M9 pistol – all accomplished in only 50 seconds.
“Weapons are so vital in the military,” said Fedorenko. “Winning that event was a proud moment for us.”
Herman Hoffman Jr., of West Warwick, a URI sophomore majoring in computer science, learned how to work as a team – a crucial part of military service. “The whole camaraderie aspect of it was a big part for me,” he said. “It’s not just you fighting the fight. It’s also the people you’re fighting next to.”
Like Fedorenko, he pushed himself mentally and physically, especially on the second day when he had to run a 10K still exhausted from the day before. “The competition helps you understand who you are as a person,” Hoffman said. “It builds character.”
Grady Bolan, of Newport, a URI freshman, ran track and played football in high school, but the Ranger contest took him to a new level of intensity. “I definitely feel stronger from doing it, more confident with my abilities,” he said.
The team will take back what they learned to the full battalion. The Rogers Williams University students were Jean-Luc Bergeron of Lowell, Mass., Harrison Quinn of Shrewsbury, Mass., Alexander Cullen of Conway, New Hampshire, David Roderick of Voluntown, Conn., and Alex Tustin of North Andover, Mass. Blaine Woodcock of Walpole, Mass., represented Salve Regina University. Maj. Herman Hoffman Sr., assistant professor of military science at URI and the father of Herman Hoffman Jr., was the team’s assistant coach.
“We know the varsity athletes at URI put in a lot of hours practicing. Our folks do the same thing,” said Whittemore. “The training for cadets here is exactly what they need when they go off to be lieutenants in the Army. They’ll use those same skills in the field.”
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The University of Rhode Island ROTC team placed third in the Ranger Challenge Competition Oct. 11 and 12 in Fort Dix, N.J. Photo courtesy of URI.
The University of Rhode Island ROTC team hugs after winning an event at the Ranger Challenge Competition Oct. 11 and 12 in Fort Dix, N.J. Photo courtesy of URI.