Road march takes toll on Best Ranger competitors

14 teams drop out

lgordon@ledger-enquirer.comMay 9, 2010 

After a 13-mile road march Friday night, a little more than half of the 40 teams remained Saturday for day two of the 2010 Best Ranger Competition.

The leader board showed a pair of master sergeants from U.S. Special Operations Command leading the pack as of Saturday morning, but as each team cycled through a series of tough mini-events on Todd Field throughout the afternoon it became apparent that this is still anyone’s game.

“If the scoring and everything stays as it is now, it could really come down to the last event being the buddy run or the last couple of events,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Dennis Smith, of the Ranger Training Brigade. “We could see fist fights coming across the finish line, which would be awesome. Not necessarily the fist fights, but just the fight to the finish.”

Capt. Bob May said he and his teammate, 1st Sgt. Kevin Dylus, both of the North Carolina National Guard, were happy to have made it through the 13-mile overnight road march that knocked 14 teams out of the competition. Going into day stakes, May’s team – Team 41 – was in 10th place out of 26 remaining teams, a ranking May said he was satisfied with for now.

“I’m feeling pretty good,” May said. “If you ask me at like three in the morning when we’re doing land nav it might be a different story, but we’ve both worked really hard and I think we’re just doing it about 70 percent for each event and making sure we complete the Best Ranger Competition this year. That’s really our goal.

“We’re just making sure that we take one event at a time, not thinking too far forward, not push ourselves to the breaking point before maybe the last event,” May said.

Katie Allison couldn’t be more proud of her fiance, Sgt. Mike Malchow, and his partner, Sgt. Jesse Collins, for coming out of Day 1 in fifth place. Malchow and Collins – Team 21 – competed together last year. This time around they are thirsty for victory.

“I think they’re just trying to take it slow and steady,” Allison said. “Just trying to be laid back and watch how other people do things. They’re a lot better trained than they were last year, basically more relaxed and laid back. They’re fresh after everything and we’re pulling for them. I think they’re going to take it this year.”

It was clear that Staff Sgt. Keith Bach, of Team 9, was hurting as he prepared to tackle a mystery event Saturday afternoon. He and his partner, Sgt. Anthony Vasquez, both serve with the 3rd Infantry Division, which is currently stationed in Iraq. The pair flew in April 1 to compete in the contest and will return to their overseas mission shortly after it is over.

“We’re all sore,” Bach said as he rolled his ankle around in circles in an effort to loosen up his joints. “Everybody’s sore. If they’re saying they’re not, everybody’s sore. Everybody’s hobbling around and trying to hide it.”

The intense heat and oppressive humidity of the first day of the competition Friday weren’t enough to bring down Bach and Vasquez, but it did take its toll on them physically. That’s why Bach was concerned about Saturday night’s land navigation movement.

“The only thing I’m worried about is the land nav,” Bach said. “I’m not going to lie. It’s another 15-mile movement tonight on our legs.”

As for the mystery event that Bach was so thoroughly preparing his body for, it turned out to be a combatives exercise that required teams to enter a building and take down enemy combatants, in some cases without the use of their weapons. The event was a crowd-pleaser, drawing handfuls of spectators eager to see their favorite team grapple with the “enemy.”

“We’re trying to bring on the modern Army combatives program,” Smith said, explaining why combatives was included in this year’s competition. “When you’re going in close with the enemy or you’re going to destroy the enemy, some may submit, some may fight. Some may be armed and some may not and you’ve got to be able to subdue them all and know when to shoot him and when to actually fight with him.”

Sgt. 1st Class Garrett O’Keefe, an instructor at Delta Company, 4th Ranger Training Battalion, was in charge of monitoring a second mystery event that left most teams shaking their heads in disappointment when they emerged from the small, stuffy tent in which it was held.

The challenge was to rig an anti-tank missile and an individual weapon for Airborne operations. It sounds simple enough, but O’Keefe said this was one of the basic, level one tasks Rangers learn early on in their training and then typically forget. Still, it’s also an important skill to have when conducting missions overseas.

“An everyday Ranger needs to be able to rig it because you never know if you might have to carry that piece of equipment into operations,” O’Keefe said.

Out of a dozen teams that attempted missile rigging event by about 11:30 a.m. Saturday, just one had successfully completed it.

Mystery events aside, this year’s day stakes line-up pretty much followed last year’s script. There was a grenade assault course, the tri-tower challenge, the Ranger First Responder lane and a stress shoot on Krilling Range.

The atmosphere on Todd Field was festive as hundreds came out to cheer on the remaining competitors. Families milled around wearing specially designed T-shirts with their soldier’s team number and name printed on them and a group of Ranger wives set up a snack bar for those who didn’t bring their own food and refreshments.

Today, those teams who make it through the overnight land navigation movement will head over to Camp Darby where they’ll navigate the Darby Queen obstacle course. After that it’s on to Victory Pond for the helocast and water confidence test followed by a canoe race down the Chattahoochee River and final buddy run to the finish line.

“It is extremely mentally tough,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Smith. “It’s physically tough. It is the Super Bowl, the Daytona 500. It is the World Series, the World Cup. All that stuff, this is it for Rangers.”

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