They already had mathematically locked up the title out of 51 teams when the third and final day of the 35thBest Ranger competition started Sunday at Fort Benning. So what was remarkable about the ending wasn’t who finished first but how they did it.
When they came into view in the Buddy Run — the last among these ceaseless events of extreme exhaustion — Team 23 members Sgt. 1st Class Anthony Allen and Sgt. 1st Class Joshua Rolfes ran side by side with their fellow competitors from the Airborne and Ranger Training Brigade: Team 20 members Sgt. 1st Class David Gil and Staff Sgt. Kevin Morrison and Team 22 members Staff Sgt. Michael Browne and Sgt. 1st Class Michael Roggero.
These brothers in arms raised their rifles in unison as they crossed the finish line. It was seemingly the only time during the contest Allen and Rolfes let any competitors come close to them since they took control by sunset on the first day.
With no scheduled sleep, the competition comprised events which tested these soldiers in physical endurance, mental acuity and technical and tactical skills.
Day 1 included a mass-start run, a weighted carry, a swim, a body-armor run, an urban obstacle course, marksmanship and a night march.
After the 51 teams were cut to 24, Day 2 included an obstacle course called the Spartan Race, a grenade assault, a call for fire, climbing, rappelling, military knots, first responder, weapons assembly, demolitions and explosives.
The teams were cut to 16 and flown by helicopter Saturday night to Camp Frank D. Merrill near Dahlonega in the north Georgia mountains, where they performed nighttime orienteering. Because of the thunderstorms which rolled through the area, they returned to Fort Benning by bus.
The weather also forced the helocasting portion of the Day 3 events to be canceled, but plenty of tests remained with the Darby Queen obstacle course, the combat water survival assessment and the final Buddy Run back to Camp Rogers.
Allen, 31, from Brighton, Colo., and Rolfes, 36, from the Los Angeles area, weren’t available for comment after crossing the finish line, but family and friends told the Ledger-Enquirer their victory culminated a yearlong commitment to win after finishing fourth in 2017. They prepared all year but increased their pace the past four months, training every day, sometimes all night.
“Not that we train with them, but we definitely see all their gains, and we definitely feel all their losses with them,” said Allen’s fiancée, Ashlee Judkins, from St. George, Utah.
“I feel the adrenaline pumping watching them, so I can only imagine how they feel,” said Rolfes’ girlfriend, Brittany Ainley, a 2009 graduate of Smiths Station High School.
Allen and Rolfes finished 24th together in 2013. The next three years, Allen didn’t participate while Rolfes teamed with another partner but didn’t finish in 2014, then placed fifth in 2015 and second in 2016. That set up their reunion in 2017, resulting in fourth place.
With tears in her eyes, Judkins explained the difference between this year and last year.
“They were devastated then,” she said. “… Words can’t describe how happy we are now.”
Ainley added, “They are both very competitive. I just know this competition means the world to them, and to see them win it this year, it’s amazing.”
The rest of the top five finishers in the 2018 Best Ranger competition were:
▪ Team 32: Capt. Matthew Thwaites, 1st Lt. Kendall Ward, 75th Ranger Regiment
▪ Team 33: 1st Lt. Jeremy Dettmer, Cpl. Tyler Taormina, 75th Ranger Regiment
▪ Team 22: Sgt. 1st Class Michael Roggero, Staff Sgt. Michael Browne, ARTB
▪ Team 41: 1st Lt. Chris Smith, Sgt. Aditya Singh Sehrawat, 25th Infantry Division.