By Brian Hill, Fort Leonard Wood Public Affairs Office

FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. (October 27, 2023) — More than 300 Junior ROTC cadets from 16 schools across Missouri, and as far away as Mississippi and Wisconsin, visited Fort Leonard Wood Saturday to compete in the eighth Raider Challenge event here.

After 10 hours of competition in events that challenged each team’s physical and mental capacities — all in a fun and safe environment — the team from St. John’s Northwestern Military Academy in Delafield, Wisconsin, finished as the overall winners, with teams from Ozark High School, in Ozark, Missouri, and Lake Cormorant High School, in Lake Cormorant, Mississippi, taking second and third places, respectively.

Raider Challenge is a team-oriented athletic competition held by Junior ROTC programs across the country, with a focus on strength and fitness. Winning teams have the opportunity to compete at the national level, hosted by U.S. Army Cadet Command.

According to Lt. Col. Michael Kaiser, who commands the 31st Engineer Battalion — the unit that took the lead on hosting this year’s event — one of the things that is so impressive about the Junior ROTC program is the “camaraderie and teamwork you already see at the student level.”

“You see the leadership — each of the teams has a captain, who guides them through the course and makes sure they are organized — and you see the true grit and the physical endurance,” Kaiser said. “At their age, just seeing that from the students is quite impressive.”

Kaiser also called the competition here “a phenomenal opportunity” to bring community members together — along with the 300-plus cadets, many family members, teachers and coaches came along to cheer on their teams.

“My daughter goes to school in Waynesville; my wife has taught previously in the school district, so we’re fully invested and we’re fully a part of this community,” he said.

This year’s events included a five-kilometer run, one-rope bridge construction and crossing, completion of Fort Leonard Wood’s Physical Endurance Course, four physical team tasks — including tire flips, low crawling, pull ups, water can carry and a portion of the Army Combat Fitness Test “sprint-drag-carry” event — and a two-mile “gauntlet” event that included a weighted litter carry, said Capt. Jacob Kramer, an operations officer for the battalion, who helped organize the event, which also included volunteer assistance from many of the battalion’s drill sergeants, along with junior Army Engineer officers here for the Engineer Basic Officer Leader Course.

Kramer said one of his goals was to help make the challenges “as hard as possible” for the cadets.

“We’ve been told a lot of our events are actually more difficult than the national competition (to be held this year in November at Fort Knox, Kentucky),” Kramer said.

In making it difficult here for the cadets, Kaiser added, “it’s the same thing we do with our Army training.”

“We want the hardest day to be during training, so it’s easier during execution,” he said.

The senior Army instructor for Lafayette Central High School’s Junior ROTC program, in St. Joseph, Missouri, Lt. Col. David Jones, said, for them, it’s the “single-best Raider competition of the year.”

“We get to come to a regular Army installation and have the full experience — eat in a chow hall, be around drill sergeants, see trainees and the training areas, and it’s just absolutely an amazing experience,” he said. “The engineer units here really go all out to help the Junior ROTC program. It’s great collaboration, and it’s a beautiful thing.”

Jones said he hopes the Raider experience provides a chance for his cadets to gain “grit and resilience.”

“These are the same training grounds that Soldiers go through, and they get to experience a day of that — some of what it takes to be a Soldier in our Army — and I think that’s a great experience for them,” he added.

For Cadet Will Braunschweig, from the Wisconsin team that took the overall win this year, getting that experience is especially beneficial — he joined the National Guard as an Army Infantryman and will report to Fort Moore, Georgia, for one station unit training after the school year.

“Fort Leonard Wood’s pretty awesome because it’s a real military base — one of the only ones we’ve been to so far, so we get to check out what military lifestyle is about,” he said. “And myself, going into the military, I get a taste of what I’m going to be living through soon.”

Braunschweig said Junior ROTC “helps people to become better citizens.”

“It helps you with leadership as well as discipline,” he said.

Of his Raider Challenge team experience, Braunschweig said it’s good to leave what he called, “the comfort zone.”

“You grind with your team — you break down together, and you build up together,” he said. “It’s something super unique that I’ve never experienced anywhere else.”

Along with the presentation of the Raider Challenge awards, Lt. Col. Matt Burmeister, the Professor of Military Science at the Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla, Missouri, was on hand to present the Army ROTC National Scholarship to three of the competing cadets — Thomas Gardner, from Smith-Cotton High School, in Sedalia, Missouri; Avery Higdon, from Waynesville High School; and John Holt, from Camdenton High School, in Camdenton, Missouri — who were awarded four-year university scholarships as they move on next year to Army ROTC.

More photos from this year’s Raider Challenge here are available to view and download on the Fort Leonard Wood Flickr page.

Junior ROTC cadets from Smith-Cotton High School, in Sedalia, Missouri, flip a tire at the 31st Engineer Battalion quad, during the physical team tasks portion of the Raider Challenge event here Saturday. (Photo Credit: Photo by Brian Hill, Fort Leonard Wood Public Affairs Office)












About Fort Leonard Wood

Fort Leonard Wood is a thriving and prosperous installation that has evolved from a small basic training post 80 years ago to a premier Army Center of Excellence that trains nearly 80,000 military and civilians each year.

Fort Leonard Wood is home to the U.S Army Maneuver Support Center of Excellence and three U.S. Army schools: the U.S. Army Engineer School; U.S. Army Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear School; and the U.S. Army Military Police School. In addition to training engineer, CBRN and military police specialties for the Army, Fort Leonard Wood also provides gender-integrated in-processing and Basic Combat Training for new Soldiers.

Fort Leonard Wood also hosts and trains with the largest Marine Corps Detachment and Air Force Squadron on any Army installation as well as a large Navy construction detachment.

More information about Fort Leonard Wood is at: