The David E. Grange Jr. Best Ranger competition has been compared to the Ironman and Eco-Challenge competitions, but one Army National Guard team at Fort Benning has competed in both events.
Lt. Nicholas Plocar and Capt. Robert Killian are among the 50 teams competing in the grueling competition that starts before dawn Friday. Plocar completed a full Ironman competition in September and his partner, Killian, was in four events over the last year, including the Kona Ironman in Hawaii.
While the Best Ranger Competition is more than 60 hours of weapons firing, road marches and navigation courses over three days, both Rangers said the Ironman events with swimming, more than 100 miles of cycling and a full marathon are more demanding physically.
"The triathlete takes a lot of training to perform before you actually get to the competition," said Plocar, who is competing in his third Best Ranger. "In this one, we got down here two months in advance so we could get ready for the actual event. The competition is the fun part. The training is the hard part."
Competing in his second Best Ranger with Plocar, Killian said the Ironman contests take more out of the athlete and require more time for the body to recover.
"The Ironman is harder," Killian said during training at Camp Butler last week. "You are going nine, 10 hours nonstop, fullout at 100 percent of effort. At Best Ranger, you are going like 70 percent. For each event, you get some time to relax, eat some food, but it's still not continuous."
Ironman training may help Plocar, 27, and Killian, 32, with their endurance, but both know about surprises in the contest. During the last two years, Plocar said his team has been killed on technical skills such as assembling weapons, tossing the grenade and handling medical issues. "All those are technical," he said. "If you are in great shape, you have to use your head."
Staying away from the tiny mistakes is key, Killian said.
"Getting out early on that first day is a good position to set you up," he said.
Retired Sgt. Maj. John Burns, who formerly worked at the Ranger Training Brigade, is a coach for the Plocar-Killian team and three other teams from the National Guard. Since 2012, Burns has seen the soldiers improve in the competition although they aren't on active duty.
"Prior to 2012, we never had a team finish above 11th place," Burns said. "Other than that one, we never had a team finish the competition. They would always drop out by day two or by day three."
Last year, the National Guard team placed seventh and two teams placed third and sixth, respectively, in 2012.
"In those years, we only had been given two teams to compete with, so we have had a little bit of success the last couple of years," Burns said.
The competition has soldiers from across the nation competing in the event. With a stormy winter, Sgt. 1st Class Jason Grimm said three teams from Fort Drum, N.Y., probably lost two days of training to snow storms.
"Our biggest challenge was walking in negative 26 degree weather," Grimm said. "The day we came down on March 17, it was negative 9 degrees. When we got here, it was 68 degrees. That's why we came down early to get climatized to the weather. They are going to be sweating like dogs."
Grimm said one of the teams will place or possibly win the competition.
"They have learned a lot about just about everything," he said.
With experience in previous competitions, Plocar and Killian don't expect to surprise anyone this year.
"In our first year, no one knew who we were," Plocar said. "But doing it two years in a row and the finishes we have had, we have been lucky, so we are not going to take anybody by surprise this year."