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Fifty teams started the 31st annual David E. Grange Jr. Best Ranger Competition Friday on Fort Benning, but by Sunday afternoon roughly half of those teams were still standing.
At the conclusion of the final event, a four-mile buddy run, 26 teams were able to cross the finish line that marked the end of nearly 60 consecutive hours of physical activity.
This year's event included numerous challenges, including some that competitors said almost took them out of the competition.
"That road march on Day 1 was the most challenging event that we had," said Sgt. 1st Class Steven Sparks, who represented the National Guard as part of Team 35. By the time we got done with day land navigation, I was already cramping. My partner looked at me and told me we had to get through it to get to Day 2, so we just kind of put our head down and got to the finish line."
Sparks' partner, Capt. Ryan Hubbs, said the competition's toughest moments came early on.
"The weight at times made it feel as if your torso was being ripped off by the rucksack," Hubbs said of the road march. "I was saying if we didn't make the road march, we weren't going to make the cutoff, and if we don't make the cutoff, we didn't really compete in Best Ranger. All of our Family and friends are down here to see us, and we had to do it."
The competition challenges two-man Ranger teams in events that test their physical conditioning, Ranger skills and team strategies. The events are purposely scheduled back-to-back and around the clock for 60 hours, allowing little time for rest and meals. The road march was just one event in a competition that also included buddy runs, obstacle courses, a 200-meter swim, a combat water survival assessment, stress shoots, night stakes, day stakes, night orienteering and a spot jump.
1st. Lt. Shaun Looney, who came from Fort Drum, N.Y., to represent the 10th Mountain Division as part of Team 9, said Best Ranger was full of tough moments. However, thanks to the two-man team format, he was able to rely on his partner, 1st Lt.. John Steger, for support.
"My buddy and I were able to keep each other up every time we started getting down, so there was certainly never a point where we were thinking of quitting even though there were definitely some rough points," Looney said. "We kind of have these key phrases that we knew would pick each other up when we needed it. We would pass back and forth the ammo can or the water can to give each other a break."
Looney said his team was helped by the time they spent at Fort Benning prior to the competition.
"We've been at Fort Benning for about five weeks now just kind of trying to acclimatize to the weather," Looney said. "When we left Fort Drum in March, it was below zero, so there's been quite a transition in terms of weather."
In addition to the 100 competitors, hundreds of friends and Family members also converged on Fort Benning in order to support their loved ones.
Steger's wife, Candice, said she was happy for her husband to be able to compete.
"John has always been very physically fit, so he was actually very excited to get away from his normal desk job and be able to work out day and night and fully immerse himself," she said. "He had a great partner and they were very compatible, so they pushed each other through the whole way. It hasn't been too tough because it's been fun to be able to support him and be part of his passion."
And while only 26 teams crossed the finish line, Looney said all of the participants deserve credit for their efforts.
"It feels good for us, but I obviously feel for the other teams," he said. "The other guys that came out here were a lot of good guys."
Steger's mother, Linda, echoed those sentiments.
"We're proud of our team, but all 50 teams should be proud to be here," she said. "They all worked so hard, so it was great to be able to cheer all of them on."