UWL ROTC teams compete in 20-mile warfare challenge

Fourteen teams from across Midwest came to La Crosse

More than a dozen ROTC teams from around the Midwest put their winter survival skills to the test Saturday in La Crosse.

The Northern Warfare Challenge is a 20-mile ruck march. Fourteen ROTC teams of five filled their backpacks with roughly 50 pounds of gear and competed against one another as they walk or run 20 miles through the cold and snow.

It is an extremely taxing competition, but the cadets said it was worth it in the end.

It began at the National Guard Armory in Onalaska. But before the Northern Warfare Challenge was over, the 70 cadets were put to the test both physically and mentally.

“We’ve been training a long time for this,” University of Wisconsin-La Crosse ROTC cadet Alistair Keys said.

“I think we’re out here to learn, to better ourselves, to make ourselves better leaders, better officers and have fun too,” University of Missouri Science and Technology ROTC cadet Heather McCoy said.

It’s probably hard for most to imagine the challenge as being fun. The 20-mile race went through the snow, sometimes on pavement, sometimes not, and a majority of it was uphill. The halfway point was at the top of Grandad Bluff.

“You have to get over that mental block to force your legs to keep going and finish the challenge,” McCoy said.

During the competition the cadets performed challenges related to surviving in a cold, northern climate.

“We don’t know where our soldiers will deploy to next,” UWL professor of Military Science LTC Jane Brannan said.

Some of the tasks include starting a fire, building a winter shelter and for the last five miles a litter carry, where teams carry one of their own on a stretcher.

“It’s probably going to be the separator. Separates the boys, girls from the men and women,” Keys said.

But even though the challenge was extremely tough on the cadet’s mind and body, they are the leaders of tomorrow.

They said what they go through on the 20 miles is worth it.

“If you learn now to push yourself, then when you get to your unit, you’re with your soldiers, you know how to push yourself and rise up to any challenges that may occur,” McCoy said.

“They’re going to be tired tonight, but they’re going to test themselves and they’re going to realize they’re capable of much more than they thought they were,” Brannan said.

The 14 teams that competed were from Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, Illinois and Missouri.

One of the teams from UWL took first, followed by a team from the University of Minnesota and UW-Oshkosh.