Master Sgts. Eric Turk and Eric Ross, both of U.S. Special Operations Command, beat out 39 other two-man teams to clinch first place Sunday in the 2010 Best Ranger Competition.
The two Erics — as spectators, organizers and even their families called them — outran, outmarched, outshot, outclimbed and outstrategized some of the military’s toughest, most physically fit Rangers throughout the three-day, almost non-stop contest.
This was Ross' first attempt at victory. Turk is a three-time past competitor who up until Sunday never made it into the winner’s circle.
“I’m not sure what the motivation is to do all this,” said Cheryl Ross, Eric Ross' wife. “They just love their jobs and they’re so proud to be Americans and Rangers.”
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Victory did not come without many challenges for these Fort Bragg, N.C.-based soldiers. Some came in the form of events such as the approximately 15-mile land navigation movement between Days 2 and 3. Some came in the form of fellow competitors.
Giving the men a run for their money throughout the 60-plus hour competition were Master Sgt. Kevin Quant and Staff Sgt. George Sankey.
Quant and Sankey, also members of U.S. Special Operations Command, came in second place, while yet another Special Operations Command team, consisting of Sgt. Maj. James Moran and Master Sgt. Evert “Skip” Soderholm, finished third.
“Just to be here. This is so cool,” said Linda Faus, Soderholm’s mother. “This is the best Mother’s Day gift ever.”
Final day of competition
The third and final day of the Best Ranger Competition found competitors navigating the almost mile-long Darby Queen obstacle course at Camp Darby and jumping from helicopters into Victory Pond as part of the helocast and swim. They also navigated a log walk, rope drop and suspension traverse as part of the water confidence course before paddling several miles down the Chattahoochee River in a canoe.
Once the canoes reached Engineer Landing, teams embarked on their final challenge of the weekend: A three-mile run to Lawson Army Air Field.
As each team rounded the last corner and began their final push to the finish line, cheers and applause erupted from the crowd of spectators lining the route. Forty teams began the Best Ranger Competition on Friday. When it was all over, 25 teams had survived the harsh conditions and brutal tasks.
Stephanie Huckey, sister-in-law to Sgt. 1st Class Jared Sarten of Team 16, said she knew Sarten had it in him to finish the grueling competition.
“He’s very strong-willed,” Huckey said. “He doesn’t give up. If he wants it, he’s going to get it.”
Lorran Schute, wife of Team 16 member Capt. Jeremy Schute, said early in the final day of the competition that her husband had trained for months just to be able to reach the finish line.
“He’s just really determined,” she said moments before her husband and Sarten went through the Darby Queen obstacle course early Sunday. “He’s not really concerned about the placement. He just wanted to finish and say that he did it.”
Team 16 had much to be proud of. Sarten and Schute began Sunday morning in eighth place. When they finished about 5:30 p.m., they had jumped to fifth place.
“Amazing,” said Huckey, shaking her head.
Award ceremony today
Before the competitors were released to be with their families and loved ones, each had to undergo a medical evaluation and turn in their equipment. Afterward, there was much hugging, kissing, backslapping and handshaking.
All teams that finished the competition were given an assortment of donated gifts such as knives, Camelback water systems, shotguns, handguns and combat boots. At this morning’s award ceremony, Ross and Turk will be given pistols.
Any of these Rangers would tell you they don’t put themselves through this punishing competition for the free gear or the pistols. They do it for their units, their loved ones and for the satisfaction of knowing they are one of 25 teams worthy of calling themselves the Best Rangers in the U.S. military.
Today’s award ceremony will be held at 10 a.m. at Freedom Hall on Fort Benning. Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. Central Command, will be the guest speaker.