From the Front Lines to the Classroom

PROVO, Utah – Jan 03, 2023 – Teaching ROTC cadets is a new experience for BYU military science instructor Nathan Schell. However, Schell’s nearly 20 years of US Army service prepared him to tackle this opportunity. Prior to starting this position in 2021, Schell trained hundreds of soldiers as a drill sergeant and fought on the front lines during nearly three years’ worth of deployments to the Middle East.

In BYU’s Army ROTC program, hosted by the BYU Marriott School of Business, one of Schell’s main responsibilities is coaching the school’s elite Ranger Challenge Team, which is Army ROTC’s varsity sports team. Under Schell’s leadership, the team landed a fifth-place finish in this year’s Sandhurst International Military Skills Competition, one of the most prestigious ROTC competitions in the nation. The invitation-only event was attended by around 50 teams from 13 different countries. Three of the four teams that placed higher than BYU were from the US Air Force Academy and West Point’s US Military Academy.

Qualifying for the competition is difficult, says Schell. BYU ROTC belongs to the 5th brigade, which encompasses 70 total schools across eight US states. Only the top two teams advance to Sandhurst. These schools battled for the two slots at the annual 5th Brigade Ranger Challenge Competition held from November 4 to 6, 2022, at Camp Gruber, Oklahoma, and BYU’s team earned an impressive first-place finish. Schell believes that because of the team’s dedication, BYU can also take first in the 2023 Sandhurst Competition. 

“Essentially,” quips Schell, “I am the team mom.” Five days a week, he works out with the team and shares his extensive knowledge on physical training and military tactics. He also coordinates and systematizes their nutrition, supplies, transportation, and other competition preparations.

Even with Schell’s mentorship, the team still bears a heavy load. ROTC itself requires significant extra time and effort, not to mention the additional work the Ranger Challenge Team devotes to preparing for competitions. “The cadets are mostly responsible for planning their training and preparing effectively,” he says.

In addition to coaching the Ranger Challenge Team, Schell teaches the second-year cadets, and he is equally impressed with this group. “The BYU cadets are extremely self-motivated and come ready to learn,” he says. "This makes teaching one of the most enjoyable parts of my job.” 

Whether instructing cadets at BYU or training new soldiers as a drill sergeant, Schell loves to witness the people with whom he works achieve success. “The biggest thing that brings me joy,” he says, “is hearing about my former junior soldiers joining the special forces or even outranking me. Seeing their development is the best.” 

Schell says that training is vital to earning these kinds of accomplishments. “I love seeing the cadets accomplish tasks beyond their perceived capabilities,” he says, explaining that this is excellent preparation for their military careers. “In the army, we rehearse, rehearse, and rehearse, so when we perform, we perform well.” 

Schell expresses gratitude for the opportunity to join BYU’s Army ROTC cadre. “Before accepting this position, the army gave me a list of 91 potential assignments and told me to rank the options in order of my preference,” he explains. “BYU ROTC was high on my list, and I ended up landing this assignment. I am extremely lucky to be working at this university.” 

Although the army has brought Schell incredible experiences, he doesn’t plan to stay in the military forever. To take advantage of the army’s tuition assistance and network, he is currently taking online classes at Western Kentucky University to earn his bachelor’s degree in organizational leadership. “Working toward further education is probably my biggest accomplishment,” says Schell. “I would like to use this degree to find a second career when I retire from the army."

Schell’s big idea for his second career is more than just a business tactic, though. There is deeper meaning. “My dream is to run my own gym,” he says. “The facility would be open to all, but primarily, I want to serve veterans. Many amputees still want to work out, but they don’t have a suitable place,” he says. To learn about the specific equipment accommodations that would be necessary, Schell plans to attend specialized training.

No matter what capacity he serves in, Schell loves helping others succeed. Whether he teaches in the classroom or coaches on the training field, Schell proves himself a valuable asset to BYU’s Army ROTC program.

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Nathan Schell, BYU ROTC military science instructor. Photo courtesy of Nathan Schell.

Media Contact: Chad Little (801) 422-1512
Writer: Jaden McQuivey