Islander ROTC Cadets Display Grit and Tenacity in Ranger Challenge

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Being a cadet in the Army Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) pushes students physically and mentally, as they simultaneously earn their degree and develop skills to become Army Officers. Within the Islander ROTC, 11 students chose to test their mettle even further by training to compete in the 2021 United States Army Cadet Command, Apache Brigade Ranger Challenge.

The Islander cadets qualified as one of 10 teams out of 35 to advance to this year’s Ranger Challenge, which was held at Camp Gruber, Oklahoma, on Nov. 5-7. In preparation for the event, Islander cadets spent several months waking up at 5 a.m. for two-hour workouts, worked late nights on their warrior tasks and drills, and kept up with their schoolwork.

The U.S. Army Rangers are an elite force, renowned for their tactical proficiency, physical and mental conditioning, and their never-quit attitude; the ROTC Ranger Challenge seeks to put those very traits to the test. Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Steven Pierce, Professor of Military Science at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, explained what this challenge means to the cadets who participated.

“Competition is essentially what the Army is all about. Soldiers push themselves to overcome personal, physical, and mental struggles to compete on a world stage as a force for good,” Pierce said. “The Islanders that chose to compete in this year’s Ranger Challenge have pushed themselves beyond their comfort zone, and it will help them become stronger Army Officers in the future.”

During the three-day challenge, cadets faced a six-mile march with a 35-pound pack, an Army Combat Fitness Test, obstacle course, hand grenade assault course, tactical casualty combat care, a water obstacle, and a pistol and rifle stress shoot.

The captain of the Islander ROTC team, Cadet Battalion Commander Mark Villanueva ‘22, has been competing in Ranger Challenge since his freshmen year.

“After four years of competing in Ranger Challenge, it has helped me develop confidence and resiliency for myself along with leading and inspiring others,” Villanueva, Criminal Justice major, said. “It has reinforced my personal work ethic and leadership style of determination and will to overcome all obstacles.”

Cadets say they relied on the core Army values of loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage (LDRSHIP) to guide them through the competition.

“As a college student with a STEM major, college life is pretty challenging, but the Army Values I’ve been taught played a huge role in my ability to contribute to this team,” Maritssa Quintanilla ’24, an Islander nursing student and ROTC cadet, said. “Everyone on the team displayed the values that the Army instills in its Soldiers. I could not have received a greater honor than to be part of this year’s team. With great leadership and guidance, we were able to become better individuals, better Soldiers, and a better team.”

The Cadets who participated in this year’s Ranger Challenge were Jaylon Berrien ‘25, Matthew Brady ‘22, Michaela Garcia ‘25, Claudia Gutierrez-Field ’25, Ethan Jacobs ’26, Jose Munoz ‘25, John Pena-Baker ‘25, Maritssa Quintanilla ‘24, Joseph Shuler ‘24, Aronn Trevino ‘23, and Mark Villanueva ’22,

“I am extraordinarily proud of the team’s commitment to self-improvement and couldn’t be happier with their results,” Pierce said. “They embody the Islanders Warrior Spirit that will serve them well as Lieutenants in the Army.”