At Marcos, Army ‘Challenge’ pushes teens beyond average

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Jr ROTC students at Marcos de Niza were among participants at the U.S. Army High School Challenge – Wrangler News Photo by Joyce Coronel  

The hefty U.S. Army truck parked outside the gymnasium at Marcos de Niza on a rainy Monday morning was the first clue that the day’s physical education class was going to be anything but average. Students strode through the doors of the gym as hip-hop music pulsed through the speakers and men in camouflage and boots observed.

The U.S. Army High School Challenge had rolled into town for the day and drew not just JROTC students, but those taking PE courses as well. The daylong event allows juniors and seniors to work together as a team as they compete to complete an obstacle course.

Working in groups of four, they pounded out sit-ups, jumping jacks and push-ups, then raced ahead to the obstacle course.

Peter McBroomhas been on staff at Marcos for 15 years. He retired after 21 years in the military and began his role as a JROTC teacher about a month after he got out of the military. McBroom said he served two tours in Iraq and was also sent to Kosovo. He chatted with students as they prepared for the competition.

Marcos is the JROTC site for all students in the Tempe Union High School District. Half the JROTC students report for a zero hour program at 7 a.m. because they attend a Tempe school other than Marcos. They are bussed to their own high school at 8 a.m.

The U.S. Army High School Challenge, McBroom said, is focused on team-building.

“It’s a team event, not an individual event. They have to work together as a group in order to accomplish the mission. That’s what we strive for.

“We try to instill good leadership and not to think that they’re better than anybody else.”

As students raced to complete the challenge, many were given prizes for their team’s performance. By midday, the best record for completing the course was 55 seconds.

“What I’ve seen so far today is that every kid is enjoying it,” McBroom said.

“When you engage youth in competition, whether it’s physical or mental, you have an engaged audience,” said U.S. Army Representative William Farthing. “The U.S. Army High School Challenge … encourages students to pursue an active lifestyle beyond the digital world they are immersed in, see challenges as opportunities for success, and consider the many ways they can be the leaders of tomorrow.”

Since 2009, the Army’s high school challenge experience has drawn parallels for students and educators on how to conceptualize the real-world application of leadership, teamwork and mental agility which are needed to achieve life goals and to succeed as a U.S. Army soldier. The high school challenge events provide an opportunity for students to experience firsthand how the Army is a modern, versatile and diverse team.

Lieutenant Coronel Scott Morley, battalion commander of the Phoenix Recruiting Battalion, said the high school challenge helps students see where their strengths lie.

“Through our recruiters from the Phoenix Battalion and Arizona State University Army ROTC, we can give them a better understanding of what the Army does—it’s not just about picking up a weapon and shooting,” Morley said.  “There are over 150 Army job opportunities to choose from. The Army is a means to earn a fully funded college degree, and a veteran with a bachelor’s degree earns an average of $17,000 more annually than a non-veteran equivalent.”

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