It was pitch black, no sign of the sun to be found. But the air was still thick and the spectators plenty as the Star-Spangled Banner started to fill the ears of those who were lining the road into Camp Rogers on Fort Benning, Georgia. The crowd was a mix of families and servicemembers, some in uniform, others out. A black-and-gold Ranger Tab overlooked all in attendance.
They were all there for one reason: to support the 54 two-man teams vying for the title of Best Ranger.
The 36th annual David E. Grange Jr. Best Ranger Competition is a 60-hour suck-fest that tests the physical and mental limits of the competitors — all of whom have previously earned the prestigious Ranger Tab. The two-man buddy teams will cover over 60 miles on foot over the course of the competition, negotiating obstacles and showcasing their tactical and technical prowess in the process. For 2019, the event is themed around World War II battles that Rangers fought, commemorating the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion in June.
The first event was an unknown-distance run. The teams lined up at the starting line and waited for the pistol shot that signified the start of the race. This year the honor of squeezing the trigger belonged to two of the surviving Rangers who fought with Merrill’s Marauders during World War II.
The shot rang through the air and the teams were off, running in boots and full uniform. I later found out that the run was approximately 8 miles long.
As the buddy teams returned, their uniforms drenched in sweat, it was clear how brutal this weekend is going to be. They immediately started making their way through the Malvesti obstacle course — but with a twist: they would go through the course backward.
This meant that teams would tackle the water obstacle before the rope climb, making the ropes slick with water.
According to Team 43’s Capt. Jacob Ahle, from the Army’s Asymmetric Warfare Group, the obstacle course was one of the hardest events of the day. “Doing the obstacle course in reverse was tough because you’re so tired from the run, and the ropes are so wet,” Ahle said. “And you’re coming off an 8-mile run.”
The competitors then moved from the Malvesti over to Victory Pond by foot, where they had to complete a two-part swim that left some competitors with severe muscle cramps while still in the water. From there, they moved to the Urban Assault Course, which culminated with the teams boarding a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter. They would need to “fast rope” into their next event: live-fire ranges.
The competition runs continuously without pause. Through the night, the competitors will complete a ruck march and “night stakes” at Galloway Range. Regardless of how they perform, only the top 26 teams will continue into day two. At the time of this dispatch, team 45 is leading the pack in the No. 1 spot.