For one team, Best Ranger competition is a family affair

benw@ledger-enquirer.comMarch 30, 2014 

When the 31st annual David E. Grange Jr. Best Ranger Competition kicks off on April 11, the grueling contest will be a family affair for two brothers.

The 50 teams in the competition include Sgt. 1st Class Gerald Nelson, part of the 2005 winning Ranger team, and his younger brother, Chief Warrant Officer 3 David Nelson, who is competing for the first time in the event that will cover up to 75 miles.

For more than 60 hours, the two-man teams will be challenged physically and mentally over three days with little time for food and sleep. Teams compete with weapons firings, road marches of near marathon distance, navigation courses, Ranger skills and parachute jumps.

The competition is named for retired Lt. Gen. David E. Grange Jr., a veteran of World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam. The winner of the contest will be declared the best Ranger team in the Army.

Gerald, 46, has competed in three Ranger competitions but he was persuaded this year by David, 37, to compete together before they retire from the Army in less than two years. Gerald, who is assigned to the Ranger Training Brigade Airborne at Fort Benning, will leave in 18 months and David, an UH-60 helicopter pilot at Fort Rucker, Ala., plans to leave in January 2015.

"I said the last time was my last, but my brother talked me into this one," Gerald said in a telephone interview.

Gerald and Capt. Corbett McCallum won the 2005 Best Ranger Competition. He has returned with some training tips from that competition to help their team.

Most teams are concerned about making the cut with 24 teams competing going into day two. Many teams are dropped during the road march on the first day.

"I think this challenge is just making it into day two," Gerald said. "They only take 24 teams into day two. It's not a three-day competition anymore. You have to push yourself on day one. You have to be in the top 24 going into day two. We used to say the road march separated the men from the boys. Everything is just as important after the march."

Although he is Ranger qualified, David said he will depend on his older brother's experience on when to slow down and when to push hard.

"He has been through it three times, so he knows what it's going to feel like," David said of his brother. "He knows you don't kill yourself on one event, three days long. If you do make it to day two, you want to have a little bit of gas in your tank to get through."

As a helicopter pilot, David already knows that he will not be familiar with some tasks for the team.

He wants to get reacquainted with assembling weapons, knot tying and anything dealing with new equipment. He doesn't have use for those items in a helicopter.

"Anything in a cockpit, I can tell you," David said.

Endurance hadn't been a strong quality for David until he took part in a rucksack marathon in November.

"That was the first time I said, 'Hey, I can actually do this if I train up right,'" he said. "It gives me a little bit of confidence and we can train up. The biggest thing is just the unknown."

Although Gerald is competing with his own brother in this competition, he said all teams are paired with a Ranger buddy.

"That kinda simulates what you are about," he said. "You are only as strong as the weakest guy."

Looking back over his previous competitions, Gerald said the Rangers he has competed with will be lifelong friends.

"We have developed a bond that is not like blood brothers but brothers in arms," he said. "That aspect of it keeps the guys coming back and competing again."

When asked about their expectations, David said they are doing it together and hoping to have a little fun. "As hard as it may be for people to understand, this is fun," he said. "Misery loves company."

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