Forty teams are primed to compete this weekend in the 27th annual Lt. Gen. David E. Grange Best Ranger Competition.
The Ranger Training Brigade hosts this grueling, three-day competition at Fort Benning to identify the best two-man Ranger team in the military.
During the almost nonstop, approximately 60-hour event, competitors will face challenges designed to test their technical abilities as well as their physical and mental conditioning. Specific tasks are kept secret until the teams arrive at the starting line, but each duo must be prepared to tackle land navigation, water courses, weapons assembly, shooting, road marching and running.
Sure to show up on the jam-packed itinerary are several legacy events such as the buddy run, Darby Queen obstacle course, spot jump and helocast. Historically, each team will get between four and eight hours of sleep throughout the entire weekend. That’s because events are scheduled back-to-back and around the clock. The better a team does, the more sleep they will get, explained Col. Douglas Flohr, commander of the Ranger Training Brigade.
“So there’s some strategy to it,” Flohr said. “These guys that win this competition, they’re not just strong Rangers, they’re pretty smart guys, too. There’s a strategy to what they do.”
All events are timed, and competitors score points for each completed event. Both team members must complete each task.
The competition will kick off at 6:30 a.m. Friday with a buddy run, followed by an urban obstacle course. Teams will also conduct orienteering exercises, a stress shoot and the always exhausting night march.
“You can come in here physically prepared, but after that first day when you go into that foot march, that’s the event that really separates those guys that are going to finish and those guys who just aren’t ready yet,” Flohr said.
Day 2 features the spectator-friendly day stakes on Todd Field.
Last year, competitors navigated the Darby Queen obstacle course on the first day. This was a departure from years past. This time around, the Darby Queen is back on Day 3 of the schedule along with the helocast, water confidence course, canoe race and final buddy run.
Rookies and veterans
Spc. Cristobal Cruz of the 1st Ranger Battalion and Staff Sgt. Wilton Gleaton of the 75th Special Troops Battalion, are both first-time Best Ranger competitors who say they have what it takes to win.
Their strategy? “Just not quitting,” Gleaton said. “That’s the way we do it. Just don’t quit. Keep going. Push hard.”
Sgt. First Class William Greenwood and Sgt. First Class Gerald McKinney — both of the 75th Ranger Regiment — have developed a unique mental strategy going into this year’s competition. Greenwood, who participated in the 2009 Best Ranger competition with a different partner, said he actually hopes this year’s physical tests surpass in intensity those he endured last year.
Though he is confident in his team’s ability to overcome the myriad physical obstacles, McKinney said those teams that do well in this competition consist of members who know how to effectively communicate with each other. Since McKinney and Greenwood have worked with each other for almost a decade, McKinney said he doesn’t think communication will be an issue with them.
“Knowing how your partner is feeling and him knowing how you’re doing, it’s key to be able to conserve energy and make it to Day 3.”
Staff Sgt. Chuck Cogle and Sgt. Frank Horvay embarked on a rigorous training schedule in February in preparation for this year’s Best Ranger competition. Twice a day, they came together to run, lift, swim, shoot and bond. Cogle and Horvay know the odds are against a couple of rookies winning the title of Best Ranger. That’s why they worked so hard in the preceding months. When it comes down to it, though, they believe their humor is what will carry them through the toughest events and to the finish line.
“We’ll probably just tell jokes,” Cogle said.
“Yeah, we tell jokes all the time,” Horvay added. “Yeah, definitely jokes.”
One look at the uniforms worn by Lt. Daniel Norwood and Master Sgt. Michael Miller and it’s clear this is a unique pairing with something to prove.
“This is the first time to the best of our knowledge that an Air Force team has been entered into this competition,” Norwood said. “I think there’s been Marine teams before and probably Navy teams, but this is the first time there’s been an all-Air Force team.”
To prepare for the competition, Norwood and Miller committed themselves to months of cross-fit training. They also studied the itineraries from past competitions to see what events were likely to crop up over the course of the weekend. Their goal is to finish in the top 10.
Unlike most other competitors, Norwood and Miller are actually looking forward to tackling the dreaded foot march. Well, sort of.
“The coolest event will be the road march I think,” Miller said. “It’s going to be a very tough part of the competition and so we’re looking forward to getting that out of the way and just successfully completing that portion of the competition.”