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Paladin Battalion wins Army ROTC Ranger Challenge

Furman Army ROTC Paladin Battalion

Last updated November 2, 2022

By Tina Underwood

It’s been 15 years since the Furman Paladin Battalion reigned supreme in its division at the Army ROTC Ranger Challenge. But in October, Furman competed at Fort A.P. Hill in Virginia and bested 18 other small unit schools in the 4th brigade. The 12-member team also rallied to make the top 10 overall among 38 schools in the region.

LTC Sarah Whitten, professor of military science, credits the careful planning, preparation and execution on the part of the team. And a lot of heart.

“They’ve been training since the first week of classes, practicing certain events and developing strength and agility geared to the tasks,” she said of the cadets selected for their physical and tactical competencies.

But it all starts with a plan. Team Captain Deanna Hoyos ’24 relied on the expert planning of Ranger Challenge Commander CDT Jared Tuzon ’23 and Assistant Commander CDT Jonathan Bullock (of Bob Jones University) who analyzed what worked and what didn’t in previous years.

From there, intense preparation ensued. “We assessed what we’d be seeing in the competition and tailored our workouts and training to that,” said Hoyos. “Everything we did served a purpose.” The team even tacked on additional workouts and labs apart from regular battalion commitments.

One of the components of the Ranger Challenge was the Humvee push. In preparation for the 100-meter push, Hoyos used a truck to simulate the military vehicle and led the team in 200-meter exercises under high stress or fatigue.

cadet demonstrating grenade skill, Kaeli Brasell

Kaeli Braswell ’24 in grenade assault course

The hard work paid off. Furman’s team came out on top of the entire 38-member field for the Humvee push. Other feats of strength and skills included a two-mile team run, tactical combat care, communications, cognitive challenge, functional fitness, weapons assembly/disassembly, grenade assault course, M17 pistol range, one-rope bridge, call for fire, and a six-mile team ruck march.

Battalion Commander Nick Johnson ’23, who also led cadets in training, said Hoyos’ leadership and “tough love” got the team through some rough spots.

“She wasn’t afraid to lay down the law and make us wish we hadn’t missed a single skills lab or workout,” said Johnson, remembering the added weight of a machine gun piled onto an already hefty 35-pound load for ruck marches.

Being mentally tough for the competition paid dividends when it came to setbacks. Even before the competition, on their way to Virginia, the team endured a highway transmission failure remedied by a van Duke ROTC graciously loaned to the Paladins. During one of the events, the cadets hit a snag during the weapon assembly/disassembly event – one they had practiced multiple times ahead of the competition.

“With us being so competitive and driven, it was frustrating as a team to not do well in that event. But we persevered and carried on with our heads held high,” said Hoyos. “We worked as a team ’til the end.”

The winning Furman Ranger Challenge team includes:

  • Keaton Anderson ’23, biology-environmental and conservation track
  • Kaeli Braswell ’24, religion
  • Deanna Hoyos ’24, politics and international affairs
  • Denison Jones ’24, business administration
  • Nick Johnson ’23, politics and international affairs
  • Conor McFarland ’23, politics and international affairs
  • Jack Mikell ’25, business administration
  • Jared Tuzon ’23, business administration
  • Luke Stewart ’25, business administration
  • Cole Sweeney ’24, Biology-environmental and conservation track
  • Matthew Zagar ’25, pre-health

The faculty sponsor for the team is CPT Zachary Johnson who has been with Furman Army ROTC since Fall 2021.

“Eagerness, motivation and desire to win led us to the title,” said Hoyos, still reeling from the success of that early October weekend. “I am so proud of the Paladins for bringing home this victory.”

Both Hoyos and Whitten are convinced – they’ll do it again next year.

cadet holding guidon

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