BYU Army ROTC
BYU Army ROTC Ranger Challenge team leader Spencer Allen hoists the 5th Brigade championship trophy, joined by Kevin Leon Lewis, right. BYU won the 5th Brigade Ranger Challenge competition Nov. 17-18, 2017, in Camp Bullis, Texas.

PROVO — BYU’s Army ROTC program erased a couple of three-year absences by winning the 5th Brigade Ranger Challenge military skills competition earlier this month in Texas.

The nine-member BYU Army Reserve Officer Training Corps earned both its first Ranger Challenge brigade title since 2013 and its first qualification since 2013 as well for the Sandhust Competition, a prestigious international military skills event.

“It’s what we’ve been working toward for a long time,” said cadet Spencer Allen, the BYU ROTC Ranger Challenge team leader and a senior from Lindon, Utah.

The 5th Brigade competition was held Nov. 17-18 at Camp Bullis, a U.S. Army training camp located outside of San Antonio. The event pitted the top five ROTC teams, having previously eliminated 10 to 14 opposing squads each in regional competition. Besides unseating three-time defending brigade champion University of Texas-Austin, BYU also outlasted ROTC squads from the University of Arizona, University of Oklahoma and Tarleton State University.

BYU advances to next April’s Sandhurst Competition at the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York, where it will join other ROTC representatives as well as squads from U.S. military academies and international militaries.

“We’ve been practicing together since September and training on our own — some for years,” Allen said. “We’re out two to three hours a day, six days a week, and then working on skills on our own as well — it’s a big-time commitment that the team members put into this.”

With its 2017 5th Brigade top honors, BYU has claimed 15 of the 30 brigade championships over the past three decades, including nine of 12 possible from 1988-1999 and five of six possible from 2008 to 2013.

The first day’s brigade competition featured the Army physical fitness test — two minutes of sit-ups, two minutes of push-ups and a two-mile run — as well as written exams in tactics, navigation and first aid.

The second-day round-robin events included a one-rope bridge crossing, a hand-grenade assault course, a combat medical-care lane, an obstacle course, both day and night navigations and a 12-mile foot march while packing 35-pound rucksacks. The medical-care event involved providing treatment to a simulated casualty, calling in medical evacuation and then moving the patient through a series of obstacles.

BYU placed first or second in all events and had built such a commanding lead by Saturday’s second day that the team simply needed to finish the final few events to win the championship.

“So many of the individual and team skills the cadets are developing preparatory to commissioning as an officer immediately translate into becoming a high-quality Army officer — leadership, problem-solving, hard work, discipline, teamwork, physical fitness, land navigation, marksmanship — these are all qualities we hope to see and develop here in ROTC,” said Lt. Col Forrest Cook, BYU’s professor of military science who oversees the university’s program. “And they hone all of these as they prepare for and compete in this competition.”

It will be BYU’s first visit to the Sandhurst Competition since 2013, when it finished in the top seven. BYU has earned national championship honors among ROTC teams four times in 30 years — in 1988 and 1989 in ROTC-only Ranger Challenge competition and then in 2008 and 2009 when the national ROTC champion was determined by the top ROTC finisher at Sandhurst.

Last year’s Sandhurst Competition featured 62 teams, including a squad representing each of the nearly 40 companies at West Point as well as squads from the Air Force, Naval and Coast Guard academies, the eight ROTC teams representing the U.S. Army’s eight Cadet Command brigades and international squads from Australia, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Germany, Great Britain, Japan, Korea, Latvia, Mexico and Thailand.

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The University of Texas-Austin won the 2017 ROTC Cup as the top ROTC squad in the Sandhurst competition, finishing 10th place overall.

The Ranger Challenge pits nine-member ROTC squads, which require at least one member of each gender and one member of each of the four collegiate classes, from freshman to senior. More than 300 ROTCs competed in regional competitions, hoping to advance to the eight brigade events and eventually the Sandhurst Competition.

BYU advanced to the 5th Brigade competition by winning last month’s regional event held at Camp Williams, outlasting other ROTC squads from Utah, Colorado and Wyoming.