Raider Challenge: The fight to be on top

East Union High School begins their three-mile run at the Fresno State campus on Feb. 11, 2017. (Khone Saysamongdy/The Collegian)

Fresno State’s Bulldog Stadium was transformed Saturday into a military competition headquarters as students from the Central Valley Army Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) programs fought to be the best in the third annual Fresno State Raider Challenge.

“Teams from Stockton, Sacramento all the way down to Bakersfield and surrounding areas have been training for the last year to come here and compete for the top overall high school competition,” said Maj. Boyce Buckner, chair of the Military Science department. “We have 11 schools total, which is nearly doubling what we had last year, so that’s pretty awesome when you think about it.”

The JROTC program is a cooperative effort between the U.S. Army and high schools to produce successful students and citizens by teaching cadets character education, student achievement, wellness, leadership and diversity.

The day began with a road march, where each cadets carried a 30-pound backpack – what the Army call a rucksack.

“Once they are done with that race of three miles then we break them up to each of their stations which they will rotate through until they are complete – with the final even being at the right there at the heart of Bulldog Stadium,” Buckner said. “You get to see all the teams complete, feel the energy of these high school students as they fight for that first, second and third place trophy.”

More than 170 students and parents arrived to participate and watch the decathlon type event which included a three-mile road march, situational awareness test, tough raider, grenade assault course, down hiker, rope bridge, relay race, and a modified physical training test.

“This give us a type of experience that we have never really had,” Alejandro Langley, from Arvin High School in Arvin said. “It gives an opportunity to challenge ourselves mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually and it helps us push forward, go our hardest and keep fighting forward and just come out on top.”

Grizelda Aguilar, a cadet from Design Science High school in Fresno, said that the moment she began setting, up she began feeling the adrenaline rush.

“Event after event you are pushing yourself,” Aguilar said. “The first thing we did was a three mile ruck [march] and it wasn’t easy, but at the same time you are working as a team. I’m learning to work more as a team. Because you are really learning how the Army is in a way.”

From the first year Buckner has seen the event build an increasing amount of momentum, he said, but in the end, the competition was not to bring more students to the Fresno State Army ROTC.

“It’s just about to promote community and friendly competition,” Buckner said. “It’s about promoting what we have hear and seek out education and take all great things that they had learned, those values in JROTC and going out and spreading that all across the state. I feel pretty excited about it.”

Langley said he wanted to thank the Army ROTC and Fresno State for providing high schools students with the opportunities for the experience and awarding scholarships to cadets in need.

In the end, East Union High School won the Raider Challenge for the third year straight.

Alan Alvarez and Khonesavanh Saysamongdy contributed to reporting of this story.

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