First Sgt. Mike Hack knows a little something about what it takes to participate in the annual David E. Grange, Jr. Best Ranger Competition held at Fort Benning this weekend.
He competed in 2007 and this is his second year coaching teams from the U.S. Army Ranger Training Brigade. Teams began training at the end of February.
“I have developed and built the training plan and issued it to each one of the competitors,” Hack said. “For the most part, I just planned, resourced and put everything together for them, scheduled it and they show up and execute.”
The grueling competition takes place over three days; in addition to training for the different tasks set forth in front of the Rangers, making sure the participants stay healthy is another concern.
“Nutritionally, most of our guys went and saw the actual nutritionist on post who wrote up programs for them,” Hack said. “Statistically, you can count on burning between 7,000 and 10,000 calories a day during train-up, so most of the guys are on a significant increase of their calorie intake to maintain some of their body size and body mass.”
To be sure, the competitors aren’t starting from scratch when it comes to being physically fit.
“We were in pretty good shape before this thing started,” said Sgt. 1st Class Jerry Higley, who is a repeat competitor. “Now, when you’re separated from your normal job to focus solely on this and you’re putting in about 10 hours a day, it’s a lot different from what you would normally do.”
Hack said he doesn’t put any restrictions on the teams he’s coaching, mostly because he doesn’t think it’s necessary.
“None of them smoke, I don’t think there’s much drinking or partying going on,” he said. “It’s more of a focus towards the actual competition, the goal at hand. Which is, of course, winning the competition.”
The weekly training schedule consists of three days with a heavy emphasis on physical exercise, interspersed with recovery days that focus on tactical training.
“Currently we’re working a diverse training schedule ... Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays you can expect anywhere between an 8- and 15-mile run, followed by an 8- to 20-mile foot march with two hours in the gym, some pool work, as well as some other focus areas for physical fitness,” Hack said. “Tuesday and Thursday is recovery with more of a focus on technical aspects of the course.”
In addition to physical and technical training, experience also plays an important role in being prepared for this weekend’s competition.
“Last year, I think we overdid it, we overtrained,” said Sgt. 1st Class Mason Riepe, who is competing for the second year with Staff Sgt. Raymond Santiago. “I think this year we’re training just as hard, but we’re training smart. Sometimes you need to sit back and let your body take a break.”
Yet, no matter how many precautions they take, the level of training and the competition is intense.
“I think as time wears on, you can take all the steps to prevent injury as you want, but it does start to wear on you,” Higley said. “You end up getting shin splints. It’s really unavoidable putting that many miles in. It’s like 60 miles a week. ... It really doesn’t matter what kind of shoes you wear or what kind of boots, that many miles, especially with the ruck and that stuff on, it’s going to take it’s toll on you.”
When asked if the long days of training and shin splints are really worth it, Higley was quick to respond.
“What else would I be doing?”