FORT BENNING, Ga. — Some of the remaining 28 teams in the 38th annual David E. Grange Jr. Best Ranger Competition got as much as four hours of sleep before Day Two of the competition, like Tymothy Boyle and Joshua Corson, both captains in the 75th Ranger Regiment.
The two were the first to finish the 19-mile overnight march with 35-pound rucks in a time of roughly 3½ hours — 20 minutes faster than the second-place team and a time the Airborne and Ranger Training Brigade operations sergeant major, Frank Enrique, called “pretty nuts.” Their reward, besides points in the Ranger standings, was a chance for some “on and off” shut-eye.
Boyle, who at 34 classified himself as “a little bit older than most of the guys out here,” told Coffee or Die Magazine during a 10-minute break that some teams didn’t get more than 45 minutes to close their eyes.
“That’s the reason why, you know, it kind of pays to be at the front of the front pack,” he said. “That’s what our strategy has been.”
From the 51 teams that began the competition Friday morning, a total of 28 made the cut to continue on Day Two, Saturday, April 9. They included five teams from the 75th Ranger Regiment in six of the top spots, an unusual level of scoreboard domination from a single organization in the Army-wide competition.
Day Two included six events on Todd Field and one shooting event on Krilling Range. Field events included events that test soldiers in a grenade assault course, tying military knots, proficiency with high-frequency radios and an 81 mm mortar employment, demolition skills, a combat medical drill, and a memory game — no easy task in a tired and sleep-deprived state. At the range, soldiers competed in a three-gun stress shoot.
Though most Best Ranger events test relatively basic skills, the cumulative effect of the competition makes each more difficult. By the time the soldiers started Day Two, competitors had traveled 40 miles, said Col. Antwan Dunmyer, the Airborne and Ranger Training Brigade commander. Teams had a long run and the overnight ruck, with the Darby Queen obstacle course in between — a twist that last year’s winner, 1st Lt. Vince Paikowski, called “just brutal.”
“The last place team finishing the Darby Queen had less than 15 minutes before stepping off on the ruck march, where some teams were there for four or five hours resting,” said Paikowski, who this year walked through the competition with his teammate, 1st Lt. Al Keys.
Another twist came with the seven-minute timed “mystery event,” an escape room-style memory test. According to Capt. Shawn Gardner with the Airborne and Ranger Training Brigade, competitors had to decode a series of numbers using Culper Code and a key that told competitors what the numbers related to.
The 24 hours of “brutal exercise” from Day One into Day Two took a toll, and during the mystery event, Boyle could not remember that the man who is the namesake of the very camp the Rangers train on was a major.
“I was like 100% sure what his rank was, and I kept saying the wrong rank, even though I know that history like the back of my hand on a normal day,” Boyle said.
“That was a good one,” said Capt. William Gerhardt from the Airborne and Ranger Training Brigade’s Team 38. While his team did remember Rogers’ rank, they did not succeed in the allotted amount of time, because they skipped around and missed words. Had they merely shown the instructor the page in the book as instructed instead of pointing at the page and looking at one another, they would have finished with time to spare.
Gardner, the Ranger trainer, said the event served two purposes.
“One, it tests your knowledge of Ranger history, and two, it tests their cognitive ability to think through and understand what they need to do to solve a problem,” Gardner said. The situation is historically accurate to what soldiers would have had to do during the Revolutionary War, he told Coffee or Die.
“Dumb mistakes” didn’t stop there for Boyle, he admitted. On the medical lane, he said he took “way too long” to treat a casualty that he should have tended to pretty quick.
“Now, you look back, you’re like ‘I 100% know that; that’s what I do every day. But when you’re tired, you’re cold, or whatever, you get excited, and then you make mistakes.”
At the start of Day Two, Boyle’s Team 37 was in second place out of the remaining 28 teams. The top four teams were from the 75th Ranger Regiment.
“That’s the 75th Ranger Regiment, they’re the best at what they do,” Dunmyer told Coffee or Die. “He wanted the most trained, fit, disciplined unit, that’s the 75th Ranger Regiment, right? That’s the criteria to get in there; it’s the criteria to stay in that organization. That’s definitely not an ‘everybody gets a trophy’ organization.”
The fourth-place team was representing Training and Doctrine Command.
Staff Sgt. Joshua Abrahante, representing the Old Guard, 3rd US Infantry Regiment in Washington, DC, on Team 23, said getting through and to Day Two is all about “keeping the engines running.”
“We still have a full day today and a full day tomorrow,” Abrahante said. “One station at a time. Today we focused to keep the engine running; we made those engines stronger in the train up.”