FORT DRUM, N.Y. (April 6, 2017) — Since the beginning of the year, six Soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division (LI) have worked tirelessly to prepare themselves, mentally and physically, to tackle one of the Army’s most challenging tests of skill and endurance — the David E. Grange Army Best Ranger Competition.
When the sun rises this Friday on Fort Benning, Ga., these elite athletes will stand alongside nearly 100 of the best-trained Soldiers from across the Army, ready to do battle to earn the coveted title of “Best Ranger” team.
The grueling 60-hour competition will kick off at 6 a.m. Friday and continue through Sunday. Throughout the competition, the 50 two-man teams of Ranger Soldiers will be pushed to their limits as they navigate obstacles designed to test their combat skills, stamina and mental and physical resiliency.
As teams work their way through elements such as an urban assault course, pond swim and night orienteering, they will be required to complete a stress shoot, written tests covering the material in the Ranger manual, and other mystery events.
The competition is open to all Soldiers who have completed the 61-day Ranger School course, considered to be the “toughest combat course in the world.”
While graduates of the school leave having proven their will-power, endurance and leadership skills, 1st Lt. Matthew Slocum of 2nd Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment, said that Ranger Soldiers must “earn the tab” every day.
“We didn’t go to Ranger School to earn the tab and be done with it,” he said. “We push ourselves every day to do our best to lead from the front and to show our Soldiers what the standard should be.”
Master Sgt. Douglas Clark, who was assigned to the 10th Mountain Division Light Fighters School to coach the division teams, said that this dedication to excellence was evident in all those who participated in the division’s Best Ranger assessment held at Fort Polk, La., in January.
“The Soldiers who came out for the assessment knew — going into this — that it would be challenging,” he said. “They were ready, and the Soldiers who were selected have proven to be very dedicated.”
Clark said that the dedication of the six Soldiers who were selected has not faltered.
“For the past three months, these guys have sacrificed their personal time and set aside their own needs to devote their time to training hard so that they can do a great job of representing the 10th Mountain Division,” he said.
Staff Sgt. Daniel Shea, a marksmanship instructor with the Light Fighters School and the second coach for the team, said he and Clark were impressed with how well the six worked together from the start.
“We started with a group of individuals who were extremely competent,” Shea said. “These Soldiers are platoon leaders, and they were all very strong as individuals. To see how well they have blended together — from the start — was great.”
Although he is the lone Soldier representing 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Lt. Sidney Blecher of 3rd Squadron, 89th Cavalry Regiment, said that he immediately felt welcomed into the group.
“From the first week, it was like I had known these guys forever,” Blecher said. “We are all 10th Mountain Soldiers. We all have very similar experiences. We may have been in different provinces in Afghanistan, but we were all deployed at relatively the same time and we are all committed to the mission.”
Blecher, along with his counterparts — four members of 2nd Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment and one Soldier from 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment — were paired into teams and began their training at Fort Polk immediately after the selection. On Feb. 15, they traveled to Fort Benning, Ga., and have continued their training there since.
Clark said that he and the Soldiers are grateful to have had the opportunity to practice on the actual grounds where the competition will be held.
“Given the amount of time that we need to spend outside training, the weather at Fort Drum this time of year just isn’t conducive,” he said. “From a training standpoint, we are trying to replicate what the Soldier will experience during the competition, and the command staff was generous enough to provide a way for us to do that.”
Clark, who previously served as a first sergeant with the 4th Ranger Training Battalion, assisted with the competition in years past. He and Shea came up with a training plan, and they had the added benefit of being able to confer with subject-matter experts.
“Two of my really good friends are former Best Ranger Competition winners,” Clark said. “Retired Maj. Rick Ahern lives near Fort Benning, and he came to talk to the troops.”
Ahern participated in the Army Best Ranger Competition seven times during his military career. He finished the event on six of seven attempts, and he and his teammate placed first in 2000.
“He told them that this competition will push them past the limits of what they think they can do,” he said. “He talked to them about the importance of knowing when to go all out, but also knowing when to conserve energy.”
First Lt. Jack Leetun said that remembering to stay sharp, even when physically exhausted, has proved to be a very important part of training.
“When you’ve done five or six hours of physical endurance training and you have to do a task that requires more mental power, things that might not normally be as hard are a little more taxing,” he said. “Being ready — even when you’re tired, hungry or want to sleep — being able to utilize your skill set all the time is something that every Soldier needs to be able to do.”
When the Soldiers are most exhausted and ready to throw in the towel, their teammates are there to encourage them to keep moving, said 1st Lt. Christopher Gaziano.
“Everybody has been pushing each other throughout this entire process — no one could do it alone,” he said. “When you’re down and feeling sorry for yourself, having someone who keeps it light — who adds a little humor to the situation and reminds you to keep moving — is important.”
While each Soldier who will compete this weekend naturally wants to take first place, 1st Lt. Noah Currie said that training alongside Rangers from across the Army has been a great opportunity.
“It’s a great group of Soldiers here,” he said. “We are competing, but we are all really here to better ourselves — militarily and physically.”
First Lt. Ted Delicath, said that, thanks to the training he and the 10th Mountain Division Best Ranger team members have received from Clark and Shea, the Soldiers are confident and eager to begin the competition.
“We have a lot of high-quality Soldiers in our division,” he said. “We want everyone to know how well we stack up against other Rangers in the Army, and our coaches have put a lot of work into making sure that we are ready to do that.”
Clark, who will retire in two months, said that his ultimate goal would be to see each of the teams complete the challenge and, of course, he would like to see one of them take first place.
Most importantly, though, he said that he hopes to show the rest of the Army that the 10th Mountain Division is home to some of the best-trained warfighters in the world.
“We have received an incredible amount of support from the division — from the command staff, the cadre at the Light Fighters School, the brigades and all the way down to the unit level,” Clark said. “They’ve gone above and beyond to support us in this journey, and we are ready to go forward and represent the 10th Mountain Division to the best of our abilities.”
The Army Best Ranger Competition will begin at 6 a.m. Friday and will end around 3 p.m. April 9. An awards ceremony will be held April 10.
Those who wish to follow the progress of our 10th Mountain Division teams may view live feed video at www.bestrangercompetition/live/.