The cold wind and rain on Friday couldn't stop the more than 100 ROTC cadets from eight Missouri and Illinois universities from pumping themselves up to race through Fort Leonard Wood's Physical Endurance Course as quickly and intensely as possible.

The event was one part of the three-day Task Force Leonard Wood ROTC Ranger Challenge, held here Friday through Sunday. Along with the PEC, the competition pitted five- and nine-person teams of cadets in events such as a timed 10-kilometer ruck march, a land navigation course, rifle marksmanship, the Hand Grenade Assault Course, casualty and medical evacuation exercises, and an artillery call for fire.

The overall winner in both team categories was the University of Missouri at Columbia — Brig. Gen. Daryl Hood, U.S. Army Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear School commandant, presented the awards Sunday.

According to Mizzou’s Professor of Military Science, Lt. Col. Tara Bradley, the cadets put “an extraordinary amount of work into training” for this year’s challenge.

“(They) demonstrated a lot of heart this weekend and watching their bonds as teammates and fellow cadets strengthen was especially inspiring to watch,” she said.

Besides Mizzou, the universities represented this year included Missouri State University in Springfield; Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, Missouri; Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla; Washington University in St. Louis; Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Missouri; Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville; Southern Illinois University at Carbondale; and Truman State University in Kirksville, Missouri. Each school's ROTC program is assigned to the U.S. Army Cadet Command's 3rd Brigade, a geographical region comprising schools in 10 U.S. states.

One addition to the competition this year was the Air Force ROTC cadets from Missouri S&T, who competed in the nine-person team category.

Air Force Cadet Maxwell Duvenick called their participation “very under the table.”

“One of the Army cadets helped us set up our team, but we did a lot of the prep and training basically all on our own,” he said. “We were given study materials, and as far as the physical — essentially we did what we always do except much more intensely. We set a goal to finish the challenge, step out of our comfort zone and see what the Army is all about.”

According to Lt. Col. Dave Ward, Professor of Military Science at Truman State University in Kirksville, Missouri, and the task force lead for the event, the cadets began preparations for the competition in August when classes began.

“The goal for the weekend was first and foremost to see who the best teams are,” said Ward, who was on winning teams in 1994 and 1995, when he attended Missouri State University — then called Southwest Missouri State University. “It’s mentally and physically challenging and requires teamwork.”

One of Ward’s cadets, Ethan Davis, competed in Ranger Challenge in 2019 here as well. He said preparation is key.

“Every morning we got up at 4 a.m. and trained from 5 to 7 a.m.,” he said. “We did a lot of pushups and a lot of running. I think it’s great that as cadets we get to come out here to get some experience on a real Army installation. It’s a wonderful training ground.”

Ward said the winners in each category will next compete against other task force winners for the title of 3rd Brigade champions in April 2021.