4th Ranger Training
Brigade wins Best Ranger Competition
Weather one of challenges this year
Story by Bridgett Siter/The Bayonet
FORT BENNING, Ga. (TRADOC News Service, April 26, 2005) – With apologies to Dickens, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
The cool weather April 22-24 was great for the competitors in the 22nd annual Best Ranger Competition, but it was nasty from a spectator perspective. It was one for the record books – colder and rainier than anyone can remember.
As one of the original sponsors, Paul Voorhees, owner of Ranger Joe’s, has attended the competition since its inception.
“I remember it turned cool one year, but nothing like this. I’ve never seen it like this,” he said.
Lightening and rain delayed the start time nearly an hour Friday morning. When the Rangers hit the Malvesti Obstacle Course, it was wet and slippery and teeming with mosquitoes.
“The environment is always a factor,” said Col. K.K. Chinn, commander of the Ranger Training Brigade, which hosts the event. “You can’t control the elements in combat, and this (competition) is supposed to test them on the skills they’d use in combat.”
This year’s events were more combat-relevant than any in recent history. Besides the traditional obstacles, runs and physical-training tests (with a nontraditional twist – pull-ups were paced with a metronome), Day One included a room-clearing exercise at McKenna MOUT, Fort Benning’s urban training site.
The teams were shown an aerial map and tasked to find and clear a room, under fire, 150 meters from the start point.
“Since our Soldiers are fighting in cities in Afghanistan and Iraq, we want our Ranger leaders to fight in cities,” Brig. Gen. Benjamin Freakley, post commander, said while reflecting on competition highlights Sunday afternoon. “Five minutes would be a good time to complete this task. These men did it with an average time of one minute and 13 seconds.”
The competitors were full of energy when they arrived at the seventh event, a spot jump into a target area with a 35-meter diameter. The cooler temperatures kept them fresh, but high winds delayed the jump more than an hour. An hour of “down time” would be coveted later in the competition, but at this point, they were too psyched to sleep.
“This is perfect,” said Sgt. 1st Class Gerald Nelson as he reclined on his rucksack, waiting. “We trained in cold weather, so this is exactly what we’d hoped for.”
After the spot jump – only one team landed both jumpers on target – the Rangers were given their first “mystery challenge,” a Best Ranger staple. Like combat, the competition must be unpredictable, Chinn said.
The teams were shown 10 enemy vehicles before embarking on a series of challenges, including crossing a stream and demonstrating correct use of an antiarmor weapon. Afterward, they were asked to identify the vehicles. Maj. Liam Collins and Maj. Frank Sobchak recalled eight of them.
After the machinegun event, the 23 teams started a 21-mile roadmarch. Historically, this event pares the field by half, and this year wasn’t any different. By sunup on Day Two, 12 teams left the woods, drenched, and went home to sleep.
Day Two of the Best Ranger Competition dawned sunny and warm. Last year. This year it was windy and cold and damp, with storm clouds threatening a repeat of yesterday.
The teams holding first through fourth places were neck-and-neck. It was still anyone’s game.
The first-place team, Capt. Corbett McCallum and Sgt. 1st Class Gerald Nelson, were first to choose where they would start. They opted to save the Prusik climb for last.
Though the Prusik is one of six “stations” at the Todd Field Day Stakes event and one of the fastest, it’s always the main attraction.
One at a time, the Rangers climbed a 90-foot rope to a tower, where they shed their climbing gear, crossed to the opposite side of the tower and fast-roped down, typically landing splayed on a mat below. Few made it in less than a minute.
Teammates’ scores were added together, and teams were ranked by their times. Master Sgt. James Moran and Sgt. 1st Class Walter Zajkowski won the event in one minute and 48 seconds, one second ahead of Capt. Brandon Cates and Sgt. 1st Class Brent Meyers, thanks to Zajkowski’s 38-second run.
“Most of us couldn’t mount the rope in 38 seconds,” Freakley said.
The other Day Stakes events, individually “weighted,” included weapons assembly, call-for-fire event, tomahawk throw, a first responder (treat a casualty under fire) event, and mystery event which required them to navigate a grenade assault course.
Jordan McCallum traveled from Columbus, Ohio, to watch his younger brother, a veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom. On Day Two, with his brother’s team in first place, Jordan had a new respect for the Ranger’s combat skills.
“I’ve watched part of the competition on TV, but I’m seeing a whole other side of it. It’s impressive,” he said. “I thought I understood what our (Rangers) do, but after being here and seeing it, I have a whole new respect for them.”
Day Three dawned cold and quiet for the Best Ranger competitors. With only 11 teams left in the game – fewer than average at this stage – Chinn decided to delay the start of the Darby Queen long enough to let them rest a bit longer.
With only four hours of sleep programmed into the schedule (and seven MREs), a little extra shut-eye can mean the difference between pass or fail on the killer course.
“They’re in there resting right now, but they’re freezing, shivering,” Chinn said Sunday morning as the competitors lay sprawled on the floor of a Camp Darby classroom. “By this point, some of them are having trouble keeping their body heat up. They haven’t had much to eat, and they don’t have the body fat to keep them warm, so it’s taking a toll on them.
“Today will be an interesting day because they’ll reach down and pull it out of their gut,” he said.
McCallum and Nelson, who later said they thrived in the colder temperatures, won the Darby Queen, all but cinching the title. But they didn’t know it. They kept their focus on the finish line.
“After land nav, we knew we had a cushion we needed,” McCallum said. “But we just went for it and gave it our all in every event. We just didn’t stop.”
No one stopped, actually. The 11 teams that started Day Two completed Day Three, which included a water confidence test, a helocast and swim event, and a final 2 ½-mile buddy run to the finish line back at Camp Rogers, where hundreds of spectators waited to welcome their teams.
There, Nelson and McCallum were greeted by retired Lt. Gen. David E. Grange, for whom the competition is named. He congratulated the winners before turning them over to their families.
“I couldn’t have asked for better support from my family,” Nelson said after hugging his son and daughter. “They’ve been here every step of the way. The reason I’m here is because of my wife. She told me to put up or shut up. It paid off.”
Sgt. 1st Class Gerald Nelson, 4th Ranger Training Battalion, climbs a 90-foot rope on the Prusik Tower April 23 as part of the David E. Grange Best Ranger Competition at Fort Benning, Ga. Nelson and his teammate, Capt. Corbett McCallum, won the three-day competition and the title of the 2005 Best Rangers. (Photo by Spc. Nikki St. Amant, The Bayonet)
Maj. Frank Sobchak, Command and General Staff College, navigates the Malvesti Obstacle Course April 22 as part of the David E. Grange Best Ranger Competition at Fort Benning, Ga. (Photo by Spc. Eliamar Trapp, The Bayonet)
Capt. Scott Wence helps his teammate, Capt. Michael Squires, both with the 24th Infantry Division, complete one of the challenging obstacles during the Darby Queen obstacle course April 24 as part of the David E. Grange Best Ranger Competition at Fort Benning, Ga. Wence and Squires finished in fifth place. (Photo by Spc. Nikki St. Amant, The Bayonet)
Sgts. Neal Jacobson, left, and Jason Noffsker, 75th Ranger Regiment, run across the finish line of the 22nd annual David E. Grange Best Ranger Competition April 24. The team came in in seventh place and was one of the 11 out of 23 teams who completed the competition. (Photo by Spc. Eliamar Trapp, The Bayonet)
Best Ranger Competition winners Capt. Corbett McCallum and Sgt 1st Class Gerald Nelson of 4th Ranger Training Battalion get ready to swim across Victory Pond during the run/swim/run event April 23.
Soldiers in the Best Ranger Competition prepare for an airborne jump as part of the contest.