The more than 80 Junior Army ROTC cadets pushed themselves to the limit — both individually and as a team — to complete a series of exercises that challenged them physically and mentally Saturday at the Rock Island Arsenal.

 The cadets from around the Midwest started their day with a physical fitness test that consisted of push-ups, sit-ups and a 2-mile run during Davenport Central High School’s eighth annual Blue Devils Raiders Challenge.

As they got into the home stretch of the run, some cadets finished without a word while others loudly grunted as they sprinted across the finish line. 

“Looking good, guys; looking great!” shouted Maj. Michael Farley, senior Army instructor at Calumet High School in Michigan.

“Let’s go, finish strong!” another instructor shouted as the cadets finished the run.

Central’s Raider team captain, Maj. Chris Johnson, 18, finished the run in just over 13 minutes.

“I think we did pretty well, maybe fourth out of nine teams,” he said of the run.

Cadets during the daylong event also participated in a round robin of events that included a stretcher carry, ball throw, first aid, map reading and knot tying. They set up a rope bridge and completed a grueling 6.2- mile team run while carrying their rucksacks.

“Aside from being physically demanding, it also takes a lot of dedication and a lot of teamwork,” Central JROTC Capt. Taylor Ford, 18, said of the challenge.

This year, nine nine-member teams competed in Central’s Raider Challenge. At the end of the day, the highest scoring teams in each individual category were given a trophy. Trophies also were given out to the top three overall scoring teams.

Throughout the day, members of Central’s JROTC program helped make sure the event ran smoothly.

Central JROTC Maj. Sam York, 18, said Raiders undergo a grueling training program several times a week. They also were tasked with creating a written plan and risk management checklist for Saturday's challenge.

“This is one of our big events,” he said.

Johnson said Central’s Raiders are especially skilled at knot tying.

“Everyone knows the knots and they can do them quickly,” he said. “Most of them can do them blindfolded.”

Farley said his Raiders have made the 500-mile trip from Michigan to the Arsenal over the last several years to compete in Central’s challenge.

“One of the things that I think is kind of missing in some of our young folks, not really our Raiders, is the resilience or grit to be able to attack an obstacle and overcome it,” Farley said. “We’re teaching them here how to run up against something really, really hard and overcome it.”

Farley said he hopes cadets also walk away from the challenge with a better appreciation for team work.

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