An adventurous bunch of Bluffton High School students has run, crawled and climbed its way to first place again.
The group of JROTC cadets known as the Raider Team has won top honors against other JROTC teams at the U.S. Marine Corps Ultimate Challenge Mud Run two years in a row. Bluffton JROTC battalion commander Devin Oliver, 16, said the team of 15 cadets competed Oct. 15 against 46 other JROTC teams at the event in Sandy Run. They also placed 11th out of all 2,013 teams, which includes military and civilian groups.
Devin said about 11,000 people competed in the mud run, which spanned a 5.2-mile, all-terrain course. Teams of four worked their way through 36 obstacles, including mud holes, walls and trenches.
"It's a tough physical challenge," Bluffton JROTC instructor retired Army Lt. Col. John Carothers said. "It's a lot of hard work, and when it pays off it really makes the kids feel good."
Carothers said most Army JROTC groups have Raider teams, which are made up of the more fearless and physically fit cadets who compete in various events throughout the year. Bluffton High School has the only Raider Team in the Beaufort County School District, according to Devin. In addition to the mud run, he said his group participates in state, regional and national Raider competitions. They took part in nationals for the first time this year in Molina, Ga. He said the national competition includes a 5K run, a two-mile run up and down a mountain, a rope bridge and more.
The Bluffton Raider Team trains after school four days a week throughout the year. The year-round JROTC program is open to students in grades nine through 12. Bluffton's program has about 170 cadets.
"A lot of people have misconceptions about what ROTC is," Carothers said. "We're not training people to go in the military. We're all about motivating young people to become better citizens. ... We use the military stuff as a vehicle to get to that point."
He said JROTC is a lot more than a 90-minute class every other day. It provides students an opportunity to participate in a variety of extracurricular activities, such as drill team, color guard and Raider Team. It's also an organization with a leadership structure among the cadets. Devin leads the group, and he has a staff that works for him. They plan and work through issues like any organization would.
"That's part of our training, too," Carothers said. "These kids are going to go out into the world after high school and face all these same issues. And now they've got a leg up on all the other kids because they're dealing with it every day."