November 8, 2013
By Mike Killeen
In golf, you complete the "Grand Slam" if you win each of the four major tournaments in any given calendar year.
The Fighting Saints Battalion (FSB) of ROTC cadets at the College of Saint Benedict, Saint John's University and St. Cloud State University has completed a Grand Slam of sorts in the world of ROTC competitions.
Most recently, a nine-member team made up entirely of SJU cadets won the Brigade level Ranger Challenge Nov. 1-3 at Fort McCoy, Wis.
Previously, the FSB won the Army Ten-Miler competition in the ROTC class Oct. 20 in Washington, D.C. for the third consecutive year. And in March, the FSB's five-person Civilian Light team won the 24th annual Bataan Memorial Death March at White Sands Missile Range, N.M.
"It is worth noting that over the past 30 years, no other program in the nation has achieved what we have this year," said Lt. Col. Darrell Bascom, professor of military science at CSB and SJU and head of the battalion.
And, there could be more accolades on the way.
The victory at the Ranger Challenge advances the team to the Sandhurst Military Stakes Competition April 18-19, 2014, at West Point, N.Y. They'll be competing in an international event against seven other ROTC brigade-winning teams; 36 teams from West Point; teams from the Air Force, Navy and Coast Guard academies; and international units from Afghanistan, Australia, Brazil, the United Kingdom, Canada, China, Chile, Germany, Qatar and Korea.
"It will be a significant amount of competition," said Capt. Lukas Wright, assistant professor of military science at CSB and SJU and coach of the Ranger Challenge teams.
To get to Fort McCoy, the SJU team had to first win its Task Force competition against eight schools from Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. That advanced the team to the Brigade level Ranger Challenge, where SJU defeated five other schools who won their respective Task Force competitions - Iowa State, Marquette, Wheaton College, Central Missouri State and Missouri School of Science and Technology.
The first day of the challenge begins with a rifle marksmanship competition. The second day is "really where the rubber meets the road," Wright said. "It's an all-day competition that kicks off at 4 a.m."
The day begins with a forced run to the site of the competition with each cadet carrying a full load of equipment and a backpack. It is followed by teams competing at different stations, or lanes, on the following events: hand grenade assault course; one-rope bridge challenge; knowledge exam; patrolling lane, where cadets use what they've learned in ROTC to go on a combat patrol; medical lane; a mystery challenge (this year, moving a log from point A to point B with the aid of materials provided); day-land navigation and finally night navigation.
The event is completed the third day, when cadets participate in the standard Army physical fitness test, followed by an obstacle course.
The FSB won four events (one-rope bridge, medical, day-land navigation and the forced march), and finished second in four other events to score 57 points (six points for each win, five points for second, etc.) to beat second-place Marquette by seven points.
"Winning the Brigade was pretty awesome," said SJU senior Jacob Oestreich, a psychology major from Becker, Minn., who served as the team captain for the second consecutive year. "I started in Ranger Challenge as a freshman, and I've competed on the Black Team, or the varsity team, for all four years. I've been around the block a few times. I got put in as captain as a junior, which was pretty unusual and was an experience. I learned a lot. I was the captain again this year, and I had a lot better hold on what it was that I wanted to do with the team this year."
Oestreich said the team was aided by having five seniors competing. "It was a huge dividend that really paid off in the end with the experience we had," he added.
The team consists of Oestreich, Tyler Brakner (junior, Asian studies and global business leadership double-major, Bemidji, Minn.), Mark Francour (junior, global business leadership, Onamia, Minn.), Joseph Gresback (junior, economics, River Falls, Wis.), Dakota Huseth (senior, philosophy major, Albany, Minn.), Nathan Illies (senior, management major, Solway, Minn.), David Marschall (senior, management major, Shakopee, Minn.), Gerald Pittman (senior, communication major, Anoka, Minn.) and Isaac Witt (junior, economics major, River Falls, Wis.).
"This is a great group of individuals," Wright said. "I think it comes from the values Saint John's holds, and the kind of young men and women that we get at SJU and CSB. It all ties together. It's not by accident."