With a combination of dirt and sweat stinging their eyes, they climbed to the top of walls, fell to the ground, but always stood back up and tried again. These aren’t Soldiers, they’re high school cadets in the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps.

Fort Hood hosted the JROTC Cadet Leadership Challenge from June 10-14, with 144 cadets from eight schools.

“I had a general I worked for who used to say, ‘We don’t train to be miserable, but unfortunately good training is sometimes miserable,’” Col. John Stanley said.

Stanley, from the Killeen High School JROTC, explained how he begins training the cadets at his school early, so they’re prepared for the summer training. Instead of just throwing them into the thick of it, he said they work on conditioning their feet for hard work – they train hard, so when they compete, or undergo the challenges of the camp, it will be fun.

“If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you,” organizer Donnie Anderson from the Harker Heights JROTC, said. “We want to challenge them, so they can be changed and improve themselves. Not only themselves, but their units.”

The schools represented at the JCLC were from Killeen High School, Shoemaker High School, Ellison High School, Harker Heights High School, Copperas Cove High School, Waco High School, John Tyler High School and Longview High School. Working together, the cadets learned about the importance of stepping outside their comfort zones and working as a team with people they may not know.

The training throughout the week included land navigation, water safety, an obstacle course and rappelling, among others. Col. Tom Clady, Shoemaker High School JROTC, said for the team exercises, they separated people, so there were representatives of all the schools on each team.

During the obstacle training, which was held at the Leadership Reaction Course, the cadets were separated into groups and chose a leader from among their team. Clady said the obstacle training really puts the cadets to the test, because they have to work as a team and use their intelligence to get from one side of the obstacle to the other.

“There was always one leader, but you’re only as strong as your weakest link, so you have to get everyone to work together,” Harker Heights JROTC Cadet Gustavo Javier Munoz Cruz said.

Cruz said that while his team only completed one obstacle, it was his favorite part of the entire week, because it taught him how to talk to people, how to listen and how to respond. He said the experience is something he hopes to look back on with fond memories.

“It was great and it was challenging,” he said. “In 40 years, I want to remember this moment and the things I accomplished.”

Nakai Cruthirds from Shoemaker High School JROTC, said the weeklong camp taught her a lot more about leadership, stepping out of her comfort zone and facing her fears – including her fear of heights. Longview High School JROTC’s Desiree Sanchez echoed Cruthirds sentiments, but said the instructors at the Phantom Warrior Academy helped ease her fear of heights.

“It’s just an amazing feeling,” Cruthirds said. “Looking down, knowing you’re safe because there’s someone on the bottom and top guiding you … it’s amazing.”

Stanley said he likes knowing that while they prepare the cadets physically for the challenges of the camp, the cadets prepare themselves mentally by talking to their peers and learning more and more every year.

“It’s not about how hard it can be,” Stanley said. “It’s about how successful they can be.”