*Best Ranger Competition
( Photo by Melissa Anderson).
Wow. Let me begin with that.
I knew that the Best Ranger Competition was a big deal. I knew that it was an honor for the men competing to be there. I had no idea just how big a deal it is. 50 teams representing a spectrum of army units with Rangers gave it their all for as much of the 60-hour, non-stop competition as they could. About half made it through.
The journey began at 6 AM Friday morning. It was still dark at Ft. Benning, so spectator visibility was difficult, but we waited behind the rope as each team was introduced and ran by. Kenneth and Jacques, one of three teams from the Army National Guard, were Team 22. Once they had made their jog past the assembled supporters and dignitaries, the teams gathered to start a 3-mile run at the sound of a horn blast. And, they were off.
As they reached the end of the run each Ranger slung their 80+-pound ruck sacks onto their backs and began a twelve-mile march. This was followed by a ten-mile canoe trip, and then a hike to the firing range. There was been no break up to this point. Because of some malfunctioning equipment fewer teams could compete simultaneously at the first shooting portion of the competition. Most of the competitors took advantage of the down time to eat, put their feet up (literally) and get some rest.
Photo by MAJ Kamil Sztalkoper, US Army Forces Command, FORSCOM PAO.
Kenneth hits his target, as evidenced by that plume of dust in the distance (in the circle)
A little background. Kenneth qualified for this competition in November. Among those who competed to represent Rangers now serving in the Army National Guard, he took the top spot (yay!!!). The top six qualifiers advanced to BRC, and formed three teams of two. In January Kenneth and his partner began preparing for the competition full time. Yes, full time. That was his duty assignment. Last month Kenneth's partner got himself in a bit of trouble and was pulled from the team. A new teammate, Jacques, stepped in. Going into BRC, Jacques had three weeks of preparation. Where most competitors fail in BRC is in underestimating the demands on the body. Physical preparedness is one portion of doing well. Strength and endurance are key. Mental readiness and "beastiness" is essential. Hydration is critical.
In spite of Kenneth's coaching regarding hydration leading up to BRC, Jacques focused on his physical preparation. During the canoe paddle he didn't take water, against Kenneth's urging. By the time they reached the shooting range Jacques' body was parched. He began to drink, but the demands of the competition exceeded his preparation. During the orienteering segment he vomited multiple times when he tried to drink. At the conclusion of the orienteering each team was taken by helicopter to an urban assault course. They were to have fast-roped from the helicopter into the compound, but high winds forced what is called a hot landing (landing in a combat zone puts the helicopter and its passengers at greater risk), where the teams essentially stepped onto the ground. At the assault course they cleared buildings (assuring no enemy presence, and securing any enemy that might be present), scaled walls, ascended to and descended from rooftops by ladder and rope, and carried an injured soldier by litter to safe ground.
It continues to amaze us that Jacques made it through the assault course. Upon completion and finally in the competitor holding area where rest and nourishment were possible, he collapsed. He couldn't keep down food or water. Attempts to help restore his physical condition failed. When the doctor arrived to check him out there was no blood pressure. The team was done.
Ken, Trisha and I convoyed to the hospital to tend to Jacques, whose wife couldn't be located. It took four bags of fluids before he could be discharged. Even with that addition, when Jacques weighed himself the next morning he was 8 pounds lighter than when he began the competition.
During the twelve hours of competition in which they engaged Team 22 covered 28 miles on foot, most of that with the weight of their ruck sacks. They weren't the first team to fall out. Three were done before the shooting range, and others continued to drop along the way, mostly due to hydration issues. We were all disappointed, but Kenneth was a champ. As he told us later, he was prepared to stop in order to spare Jacques the brutality of what his body was experiencing. Jacques, to his credit, insisted on continuing as long as he could so as not to let Kenneth down. They proved to be a good team.
We are enormously proud of Kenneth. He is convinced that he could have completed the course, and felt that his training had prepared him well. Even so, he is already making plans to alter the training strategy to compete next year, having a better idea of what is expected, and how his body will be challenged. It is too soon to know who else might be part of the event and how a team might be formed, but Kenneth and Jacques are ready to work together again.