While most folks are still in a slumber, 50 teams in the 31st Annual David E. Grange Jr. Best Ranger Competition will hit the pavement with a buddy run early today to kick off the grueling event at Fort Benning.
The teams will cover more than 60 miles over the three-day competition, facing physical and mental challenges with very little time to eat or sleep. There will be weapons firings, extensive road marches of near marathon distances, navigation courses, Ranger skills and parachute jumps to determine the best Ranger team in the Army.
Retired Sgt. Maj. John Burns, who formerly worked at the Ranger Training Brigade but now coaches four Army National Guard teams and an alternate team in the competition, said Thursday the teams are ready.
"All of them are going out to get that one good final meal, being with their family and be back in here," Burns said. "They are going to spend the night in the barracks to get as much rest as they can."
During the day, Burns said soldiers completed competitive week events prior to the competition to make sure all Rangers were up to standards on certain tasks.
The competition is a three-day event, but only about half of the 50 teams will be around for the second day. Some will be lost to a grueling road march, to possible injuries or will not make the cut. Last year, 23 teams finished the competition.
"It is a very challenging, hard-paced first day," Burns said. "It will be a good day. For us, it's going to be one of those things where the guys are going to have to push hard through day one in order to be able to make it through the cut but not press so hard that they are not able to finish as well."
After looking over the schedule of events, Burns said pace is going to be important for the teams. The teams are familiar with the events and have studied them.
"I think our biggest challenge is going to be guys pacing properly in order to be able to get through each event," Burns said.
The competition ends Sunday after a buddy run at Freedom Hall.
The contest is open to all branches of service, but each soldier must be a graduate of the Army Ranger School at Fort Benning.
Since the Best Ranger Competition started in 1982, it only has been canceled twice, in 2003 during the Iraq war and in 1991 during Operation Desert Storm.
The competition is named for retired Lt. Gen. David E. Grange Jr., a veteran of World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam.
With intense dedication and motivation, he once served as director of the Ranger Department.Burns was relieved to know that his teams wanted to spend the night on post. He doesn't have to think about accidents or incidents that could have an impact on the competition.
"God willing and the creek don't rise, they will all be here ready to compete," Burns said.