Newcomers Help Push Ranger Challenge Team to West Point
By David Miller
It’ll be difficult to convince Charlton Epperson that he has too much on his plate.
A freshman Army ROTC cadet from Charlotte, North Carolina, Epperson is balancing classes in civil engineering, STEM Path to the MBA, Honors College and ROTC.
He knew he’d be challenged when he enrolled in fall 2017, but immersion into college and campus life for a cadet means taking advantage of every opportunity the Army provides, so Epperson tried out for and made UA’s Army Ranger Challenge team.
Ranger Challenge cadets train five, sometimes six days a week before the sun comes up, when the nearly dozen cadets lug 40-pound rucksacks on marches along the Tuscaloosa River Walk and do situps and pushups until their abs and arms are shot. They also practice land navigation and rifle marksmanship in preparation for state, regional and international competitions.
His daily routine is grueling, but Charlton hasn’t “hit a wall yet.”
“I’m going non-stop with business projects, engineering tests and projects, PT (physical training) in the morning, and sometimes working out on Saturdays with Ranger Challenge,” Epperson said. “You just have to make time for everything.”
Getting to International Competition
Epperson is one of three freshmen on UA’s Ranger Challenge team, which will compete at Sandhurst, an international military skills competition, April 13-14 at the United States Military Academy.
UA’s cadets began training before the fall semester and won their bridge (regional) competition to clinch a spot at West Point for the second straight year, and for just the second time in program history. There, the cadets will face other winners of the 10 brigades, teams from the three service academies and a host of international teams, many of which have competitors with multiple years of enlisted service.
Sandhurst will be twice as difficult as the previous two rounds, but UA’s freshmen don’t feel the burden of inexperience; they’ve been challenged and empowered by the team’s commanders, cadet David Edwards and Conner Salisbury, from helping improve strength and conditioning to giving freshmen a voice in designing practice schedules, said Emily Maier-Costanza, a freshman majoring in criminal justice from Walnut Creek, California.
“Sometimes an idea will pop in my head about something that can add a greater effect and make us better in the long run, and Edwards and Salisbury are receptive to it,” Maier-Costanza said. “And to see it implemented makes me think, ‘OK, I’m not just a freshman … I know what I’m doing.”
Both Epperson and Maier-Costanza said the team aspect of Ranger Challenge has influenced their respective Army career paths: Epperson to infantry and Maier-Costanza to military police. They said Ranger Challenge’s blend of physical and mental challenges has sealed their decision to compete all four years at UA, which will require more “give and take,” even with the simplest of routines, like sleep, Maier-Costanza said.
“My goal is to be Ranger Challenge commander by my junior year,” she said. “I also want to be XO (cadet battalion executive officer) by senior year. It’s stressful, but my goals and ambitions align with Ranger Challenge as of now, and hopefully that will continue through my senior year.”
Epperson said he’s still “finding out a ton of stuff that everyone else already knows,” and the daily lessons help motivate him to balance the rigor of class, ROTC, competition and social life.
“I hope the day doesn’t come to where I have too much on my plate to keep going with Ranger Challenge,” Epperson said. “Until that day comes, I’ll keep on going forward.”
The University of Alabama, the state’s oldest and largest public institution of higher education, is a student-centered research university that draws the best and brightest to an academic community committed to providing a premier undergraduate and graduate education. UA is dedicated to achieving excellence in scholarship, collaboration and intellectual engagement; providing public outreach and service to the state of Alabama and the nation; and nurturing a campus environment that fosters collegiality, respect and inclusivity.