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How UNG Ranger Challenge team fared at Sandhurst Military Skills Competition at West Point
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From left, Cadets Michael Laun, Hayley Farmer and Shane Henderson were part of UNG's Ranger Challenge team that won the ROTC title and finished fourth out of 44 teams overall at the Sandhurst Military Skills Competition. Photo courtesy Lee Jung "Esther" Kim

Standing among 43 other teams before the Sandhurst Military Skills Competition, Hayley Farmer, University of North Georgia junior, said she could sense the anticipation in the air. 

In order to determine where people began in the contest, they had to undergo an intensive relay race that included miles of running, crawling under barbed wire, carrying a person over their shoulders and more. 

“All the teams started on the same starting line, and you could feel the anxiousness and amped up energy,” Farmer said. “Everyone was just ready to go.”

Farmer served as second in command in her 11-person team from UNG. Each cadet, including others in the university’s Ranger Challenge program, had trained all year to participate in the competition from April 16-17, at West Point in New York. 

Luckily, their work paid off. 

The UNG cadets finished in fourth place, going up against 15 other ROTC programs, 25 teams from the U.S. Military Academy and three service academy teams. 

“I’m so proud of my guys, especially the guys that never competed before,” Farmer said. “They really proved to me that if you train hard and commit enough, you get results. I’d also like to highlight our coaches.They sacrificed so much for us.”

The top three spots were won by the U.S. Military Academy. UNG’s team earned third place in 2019 and fourth place in 2018. The 2020 competition was canceled because of the pandemic, and this year’s event didn’t have the usual international teams, which Farmer said would have nearly doubled the turnout. All participants were required to have negative COVID-19 test results before attending. 

Retired Maj. Donovan Duke coached UNG’s team with the support of Maj. Joshua Larson, activity-duty Ranger Challenge adviser and assistant professor of military science. The two organized the cadets’ year of training that began in the fall. 

Larson said the preparation involved physical fitness training five days a week in the morning, which included high-intensity workouts like running and CrossFit exercises. A few times a week they’d undergo labs to work on technical skills, encompassing weapons, first aid, land navigation and more.

Ranger Challenge is the varsity sport of Army ROTC, where teams from other colleges go head-to-head in events that entail marksmanship, weapons assembly, grenade assault course, Army Combat Fitness Test and others. 

Larson said participating in the Sandhurst Military Skills Competition is the highest technical and tactical proficiency level a cadet can reach before entering the military.

“It’s really that extra little bit of refinement to their leadership skills,” Larson said. “They’re put through a lot of stress and training, and they’re asked to make good decisions in that atmosphere. They did really well.”

Noah Umezaki, a UNG junior who served on UNG’s team, described the competition as a “thrilling experience.”

“I thought it was really fun because just being neck-and-neck with all those people makes you want to win even more and push yourself even more,” he said. “It was some good competition.”

Umezaki said he trained all year with 30 Ranger Challenge members, but only 11 were selected for the main Sandhurst competition team. The final group was solidified only a few weeks before the trip to West Point. The decision was based on how well they performed through the year.

“I had already been on the team for about a year, and when I was placed on the competition team, I didn’t feel like it was a surprise,” Umezaki said. “I felt like I earned it.”

Farmer said she was the only member of the 11-person team who had previously competed at Sandhurst. Going into it the second time, the cadet said some surprises were thrown her way. 

“We didn’t find out what the actual competition was going to entail, until the day before,” Farmer said. “Thursday was a shock, nothing like my first time around. It shocked me and the coaches that had been there before.”

Unlike in 2019 when the teams moved to and from events by completing a ruck march -- a typical ruck march includes carrying a 35-pound backpack -- over 5-to-10-mile movements, Farmer said they were asked to sprint 1-2 miles at a time while bearing a lighter weight.

Despite the unexpected obstacle, Farmer said her team moved faster than the others around them, which contributed to their success. 

“Four of our 11-man team had never seen a military skills competition in any capacity,” she said. “That being said, to accomplish what we did with that situation, it just speaks volumes to our actual training during the year.”

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