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Cadets win second in national Ranger Challenge competition

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Members of UNG's Ranger Challenge team navigate a water challenge in a Zodiac boat.

A team of cadets from the University of North Georgia (UNG) took second place in this year's "Bold Leader" Ranger Challenge, a two-day competition among the nation's top ROTC programs that tests endurance, physical fitness, and military skills such as marksmanship and land navigation.

While pleased that UNG's cadets improved over 2012, COL Todd Wilson, active-duty professor of military science at UNG, said he's glad the team isn't willing to settle for second.

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Members of UNG's Cadet Challenge team are tested on weapons
proficiency during Bold Leader competition.

"A U.S. Army officer is trained to win, so I'm proud that our cadets are not satisfied with second place," Wilson said. "I'm pleased with the improvement they made and proud that they are planning and training for how they can win Bold Leader next year. UNG's Ranger Challenge team is a great group of cadets."

In November, 10 teams, including all six federally designated senior military colleges, took part in the "Bold Leader" competition, held each fall at Fort Knox, Ky. The first day of the competition requires cadets to demonstrate skills in weaponry and navigation. In the grueling second day of competition, cadets run a total of 8 miles and must complete various challenges – crossing a stream by building a one-rope bridge and treating "wounded" soldiers – after each 2- to 3-mile leg.

UNG placed second in the event by a slim 11-point margin behind Texas A&M, a perennial winner of the event.

"Our Ranger Challenge cadets are competing at a very high level, and against some very tough teams," Wilson said. "Texas A&M puts a lot of emphasis on winning the competition and has a long-standing process of bringing in their top cadets and training them specifically for Bold Leader. We've had just one year of using that approach and we nearly beat them."

That attitude – that second place isn't good enough – is part of what Cadet LTC Cole Gregory, a senior from Jefferson, Ga., who commands UNG's Ranger Challenge team, seeks when recruiting members.

"Ranger Challenge more than likely will find you," Gregory said. "At the heart of Ranger Challenge is a determination to win and an individual's physical fitness – those are the two key qualities of a prospective team member."

MSG James Light, an active-duty military instructor and Ranger Challenge team adviser, helps cadets develop their training plans and provides guidance and direction. The team's ultimate success depends upon the leadership and determination of the cadets themselves. As The Military College of Georgia and a state leadership institution, UNG is dedicated to educating leaders who can succeed in a global environment; the Ranger Challenge team requires cadets to takes those leadership skills to the next level.

"Ranger Challenge helps them develop the ability to lead under stress," Light said. "The competition really puts stressors on the cadets physically and mentally. They have to endure fatigue, but still be able develop plans for accomplishing each objective during the competition. The attention to detail is what makes the difference between a good team and a great team at Ranger Challenge."

UNG'S Ranger Challenge team trains every weekday morning from 5-8 a.m. when school is in session; tasks get more complicated and workouts get tougher as training progresses. Jonathan Strickland of Gainesville, Ga., one of the unit's leaders who assists in planning and training, said that being able to work together also is vital to the team's success.

"By far, a successful Ranger Challenge team member must be dedicated to the team," Strickland said. "Regardless of individual physical fitness and tactical proficiency, a member who is not willing to support the team effort will only be a burden to the team."

Gregory, who attends on a Georgia Military Scholarship and plans to commission into the Georgia National Guard, said he recognizes the responsibility he has to uphold the team's decades-long tradition of excellence.

"It's an immense responsibility; I'm part of something that goes years back," Gregory said. "There's a lot of pressure to be a good leader, and a lot of weight on my shoulders, but it's a welcome weight; you shoulder it and go on."

Strickland said he's also is glad to have a chance to leave a legacy of success; he plans to graduate in spring 2015.

"I have enjoyed every semester on the team, and now that I am in a leadership position, I have had the opportunity to contribute to the improvement of the organization in hopes that it will bolster the image of the University of North Georgia, the Corps of Cadets and Ranger Challenge members," he said.

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