As the first rays of sunlight shone through the still lowered blinds of most students’ dorm rooms last Friday morning, eight teams of two members each from Seton Hall’s ROTC program were busy duking it out around the South Orange area in the Pirate Battalion’s first Best Cadet Competition.
The competition was designed to boost morale in the program and to hone the combat skills of the participants. It consisted of seven events, mostly physical in nature, which pushed the competitors’ teamwork and knowledge to the brink.
“This event is a great way to build a friendly rivalry between each grade level and allows cadets to compete in a very tough competition that, if they complete, will boost their confidence and earn them respect amongst their peers,” junior Cadet Matthew Zalewski said.
The competition began at 7 a.m. in the Richie Regan Recreation, one of the Pirate Battalion’s regular training sites. After receiving their initial briefing, the participants fell out of formation to face off in a series of pushups, situps, pullups, sprints and rope climbs. Though it was by far the easiest phase of the day, it nonetheless left the cadets visibly exhausted, giving them a taste of what was to come.
The challenge came when the cadets were told they would be doing something that, many of them said they had never considered doing before: tying themselves to their partner and going on a three mile, uphill run to South Mountain Reservation.
Challenging the cadets’ expectations was a major focus from the earliest stages of the competition’s design, according to Cadet Ray Deacon, an officer in charge of overseeing the event.
“He’s motivating us to try new things at least,” said Deacon, speaking on the leadership style of Lt. Colonel Edwin Diaz, Seton Hall’s professor of military science.
Following the run to South Mountain, which was easily won by the team of Cadets Anthony Ortiz and Raffaele Albanese, the competitors were almost immediately rushed into another run, this one only two miles, on the roads that circle the top of the reservation.
Once the cadets were thoroughly exhausted from their near-quarter marathon, they were given a few minutes of down time before being ushered into the woods in search of a series of flags, which they had to carry back to the headquarters.
The competition hit a snag at this point when it was discovered that a civilian not associated with the ROTC program had stolen one of the flags. Still, the competitors had no choice but to continue with the contest as best they could.
“Things started off a little rough back at school and up here,” Deacon said. “The first few things took a lot longer than we expected, and now we’re missing a flag. But I think they’ll get better.”
Following the land navigation course, the teams were tasked with yet another run back to Seton Hall before jumping into the Rec Center pool to complete a 200 meter swim and 80 pushups apiece.
Ultimately, Albanese and Ortiz took first place in the competition.
“Hopefully (the competition) will be a lot bigger next year,” Deacon said. “Maybe there could be a grenade range, or a (Movement Over Urban Terrain) range. Maybe some snacks for the cadets and music. It can really be an event.”
But even though not everything went off without a hitch, Diaz said he is happy with the way his cadets performed and that the competition was more effective than Pirate Stakes, its spiritual predecessor.
“We were sitting around the lunch table one day, wondering how we could replace Pirate Stakes,” Diaz said. “This did that. I’d do it again next month. I’d do it every month; we just don’t have the resources.”
Joseph Grogan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.