Sam Collins was ready to quit.
The Graham-Kapowsin High School freshman dangled upside down from a rope on an Army obstacle course at Joint Base Lewis-McChord and shouted that she didn’t want to move another inch.
But Sam’s friends and a couple Army sergeants on the ground didn’t want to see her fail. They encouraged her to move until she put one hand in front of the other and finished the drill.
“I’ve never done something like that,” she said.
She’s one of about 300
Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps cadets camped out at Lewis-McChord this weekend for an annual event that gives them a close-up look at military life. The students sleep in barracks, eat at Army dining facilities and exercise with soldiers in the mornings.
It’s an eye-opening event for teenagers who “don’t get away from mom and dad a lot,” said Gaylen House, the JROTC instructor at Mount Tahoma High School.
On Friday, cadets confronted one of their most physically demanding tasks as they worked their way through two obstacle courses and a rappel tower under the watchful of eyes of sergeants from Lewis-McChord’s 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.
“No whining,” advised Graham-Kapowsin
JROTC instructor Robert Tetu, himself a recently retired Stryker master sergeant from Lewis-McChord.
Cadets hurled themselves at logs, lifted each other up a tower without a ladder and kept their butts low to crawl under barbed wire. The enlisted soldiers would demand pushups and burpees if they saw any students sitting around.
“Some of the obstacles are pretty daunting, but as you get up to them and you negotiate them, you think, ‘Hey, I can do that,’” said Staff Sgt. John Ferguson of the brigade’s 1st Squadron, 14th Cavalry Regiment.
Sam Collins was on her first trip to Lewis-McChord, but some of her classmates were veterans of the drill.
Graham-Kapowsin’s Jessica Mason was a returnee who proudly pushed herself farther along a monkey bar obstacle than she had in the past.
“You got this, brother!” she shouted as motivation at teammates when they took on more challenging drills.
Graham-Kapowsin senior Josh Figueroa made the obstacles look easy on his third visit to Lewis-McChord.
He keeps coming back because it “gives you experience that you don’t get offered in life.”