Story and photos by Sgt. Eugene H. Cushing
4th Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs Office, 4th Infantry Division
FORT BENNING, Ga. – Soldiers representing the 4th Infantry Division claimed the highest score among division teams at the David E. Grange Jr. Best Ranger Competition held at Fort Benning, Ga., April 15-17.
Team 34, the 4th Inf. Div.’s best scoring team of 1st Lt. Thomas Goodman and Staff Sgt. Bryan Achee tied for seventh place with a team from the Ranger Training Brigade.
The Best Ranger Competition is an annual event where Rangers from across the military compete in physically and mentally demanding events for three continuous days with almost no time for rest.
Goodman, the air operations officer for the 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Inf. Div., said he and his teammate were happy finishing in seventh place.
“We made the top 10, so it was good,” he said. “It was rough, pretty brutal through some of the first day.”
Day one of the competition kicked off with a buddy run starting at Fort Benning’s Camp Rogers and transitioned into a foot march. The teams then began a canoe movement, taking all their gear eight miles down the Upatoi Creek and then moved uphill to a machine gun range where they fired the M249 squad automatic weapon and the M240B machine- gun at multiple targets.
The Rangers conducted another road march to reach the moving target range, where they engaged pop-up targets with the M4 rifle before they began an orienteering course which led them cross-country to a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter that would take them to an urban assault course. The helicopter touched down for a few seconds, during which the competitors disembarked and climbed over a wall in order to begin a series of tests involving room clearing and other tenets of military operations in urban terrain. The Rangers had a short break before starting a night orienteering course, which Goodman said he felt was one of the most challenging parts of the competition.
“The first day is pretty much all physical, they just beat you down,” Goodman said. “Then you go into day two. You’re tired, you’re not quite at your sharpest game, but you still got to perform under the pressure.
“Not so much that it was a difficult thing we had to do, but the movements were long (and) we were so beat down at that point,” he said. “That’s when we really had to dig deep.”
Day two centered around Fort Benning’s Todd Field where the Rangers completed skills testing in events such as mountaineering, communications, hand grenades, medical proficiency and marksmanship. After completion of the skills testing, the Rangers conducted more foot movements and orienteering that ended when they reached Camp Darby, home of the Darby Queen, a 2,000-meter obstacle course over rough terrain featuring 26 obstacles.
Day three started with the competitors running through the obstacle course before moving on to the “Helocast” event, in which a helicopter dropped the competitors in Victory Pond, forcing them to swim ashore with all their equipment. After making it ashore, the teams got little rest before the water confidence test, in which they had to negotiate obstacles above Victory Pond, before zip lining from a 75-foot tower into the water below.
The teams then conducted a final two-and-a-half-mile buddy run, which brought them to the finish line at Lawson Army Airfield, about 58 hours after the start of the competition.
“It’s a good feeling,” said Achee, Company D, 2nd Bn., 12th Inf., Reg., about completing the competition. “Just to finish the competition alone is an accomplishment; to place seventh is very meaningful.”
Achee and Goodman made up one of four teams representing the 4th Inf. Div. at the competition. The remaining teams were Team 35, 1st Lt. Kevin Werner and Capt. George Rhynedance, who placed 21st; Team 32, Sgt. Joshua Rolfes and 1st Lt. Benjamin Franklin, who placed 23rd; and Team 33, Capt. Thang Tran and Capt. Michael Luth, who placed 29th.
All four 4th Inf. Div. teams completed the competition, which started with 51 teams and finished with 31.
Capt. Thomas Halverson, commander of the Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 4th BCT, competed in the competition in 2009, taking ninth place for the division. During the 2011 competition, Halverson again traveled to Fort Benning, to encourage this year’s competitors.
“Every competition is different, which is what makes the Best Ranger Competition a challenging event,” he said. “It is very amazing and encouraging (to see) what these Rangers are willing to put themselves through.”
Halverson explained that although things change from year to year, the core skills, like marksmanship and road marching, generally stay the same.
“I think they did an absolutely amazing job,” he said. “They gave it their all out there, which is all you can ask.”
After completing the final run, the teams were greeted by Secretary of the Army John McHugh, who served as the guest speaker at the formal awards ceremony April 18.
“To watch the run I think really says it all,” McHugh said. “They go through three days of incredible physical exertion, carrying a ruck and a weapon and to go out there at the end of this and run two-and-a-half miles at the pace they did, you have to ask yourself, as mere mortals, how they can actually do that and finish it.”
Achee explained that their success in the competition was based upon teamwork.
“We basically took everything we knew about the competition from our peers who had competed previously,” he said. “All the knowledge and everything that they could give to us and use that in our train-up, as well as getting down to the nitty-gritty with the physical aspect of it and making sure that we were just mentally ready.”
“We ate a lot of ice cream too,” Goodman said. “You got to keep that reserve strong.”