March 30, 2011 | Andrew Steiner

Calvin ROTC members compete in the "ruck march."

Snow still clung to the fields of central Indiana when four cadets and an officer from Calvin’s Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) unit arrived in Camp Atterbury on February 25 for a weekend of competition.

Along with 500 servicemen and women from the Army ROTC 7th Brigade, Calvin’s cadets faced a series of challenges designed to test both the athletic and mental dimensions of their training. The prize? The German Armed Forces Badge for Military Proficiency, one of the rare medals awarded by a foreign organization that is worn on U.S. Army uniforms.

The events, organized by the German-American Army Liason of Fort Benning, Georgia, began Friday evening with a 200-meter swim. Cadets needed to complete each event in order to advance to the next. Calvin Junior Ben Byma, a mechanical engineer and ROTC cadet, commented, “Usually you can expect that a few people will get knocked out of the competition early. I guess last year the swim was a big event that knocked people out, but this year we didn’t have anyone fail the swim.” Those that did fail spent the remainder of the weekend cleaning the barracks.

Running, shooting, marching

On Saturday, the cadets woke up to a brisk five-kilometer run. Despite the cold, the runners wore shorts and t-shirts, the standard physical training uniform (P.T.) for Army soldiers. All four Calvin cadets crossed the finish line in under 23 minutes. In the early afternoon, the competitors took a written first aid test. “It’s a 10-question multiple choice test that covers, like, 200 pages of the Army manual,” Byma explained, “so it’s pretty difficult to know what to study.” Even though the unpredictable nature of the test offered a challenge, all Calvin cadets passed.

The day continued with a pistol shoot in the afternoon and a gamut of track and field events in the evening. A 12-kilometer “ruck march” on Sunday morning concluded the competition. At Camp Atterbury, a ruck march entails a long distance hike in full uniform under the weight of a thirty-five pound rucksack. Cadets were evaluated on their performance in the pistol shoot and the march, earning grades that factored into an overall medal ranking for those who persevered.

“On the ruck march, there were probably 300 people left at that point,” Byma said, “For the gold standard, you get 120 minutes to do 12 kilometers … All you gotta do is stay under a 10-minute kilometer pace, and that’s a brisk walk, I guess. But some people run the whole time, so they finish in like an hour-and-a-half.” One of those cadets was Calvin sophomore Adam Card. “I guess he finished out of all the people, seventh or eighth out of three hundred because he ran most of the way,” Byma said. “He finished in like an hour and twenty-seven minutes …, which is amazing…”

At the end of the competition, each of the four competitors from Calvin received badges. Byma, Card and junior John Eske received gold badges, and senior Aaron Rask was awarded a bronze badge. (Junior Ross Pursifull, who won gold at Camp Atterbury last year, coached this year’s crew.)

With its 6 a.m. drills on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, weekly classes and labs, Byma credits his involvement in ROTC with establishing some of his closest relationships at Calvin. “I find that I get along really well with a lot of people [in ROTC], and we hang out from time to time,” Byma said. “We have a training event coming up this weekend where we’re going to Fort Custer [in Battle Creek, Mich.] … , so we have to check over all the gear and make sure no one has any deficiencies or anything, so we made a social event out of it. People came over, and we watched Band of Brothers or something like that, and one kid made pie for all of us.”

Reconciling service with faith

For Pursifull, ROTC forges more than strong friendships, it provides a structure of discipline. “ROTC defines my Calvin experience,” Pursifull said. “ROTC is a big motivation to keep good grades… Leadership means much more in the military.”

Pursifull found his assumptions about the world challenged by what he learned at Calvin. He was forced to reconcile his passion for military service with his Christian faith. He reflected, “Military service and Christianity don't fit together in everybody's lives.  For DCM (“Developing a Christian Mind,” an introductory course for all Calvin students) I took “Just War and Christian Ethics” with Professor Lundberg. This class challenged my views and helped me decide what I believe about a Christian’s place in the military. I have considered God's call in my life and have decided that my faith and serving in the military can coexist.”

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