Ranger Up’s Visit to the Best Ranger Competition
Tim and Tommy Do Best Ranger
“You ready to go?” Tim asked me as we climbed into his little white car. It’s the last car you’d expect an SF guy to drive, let alone an SF guy that is one of the top 185lb mixed martial artists in the world.
“Yeah sure,” I said with a slight yawn. “Let’s do this.”
This was the Best Ranger Competition, the greatest military endurance race in the world. It’s been compared to the Eco-challenge or an Ironman triathlon, but both events pale in comparison. For 60+ hours the 48 two-man teams have to shoot, ruck, navigate, climb, run, and jump their way through one of the most sadistic and grueling series of trials ever to cross a Ranger’s mind. If that wasn’t bad enough the pre-requisite for this crucible of pain and suffering was the successful completion of Ranger School. You had to have survived that 62-day kick in the nuts just think about doing it. Of course the first topic Tim and I discussed was how much we want to compete in Best Ranger some day. Hey, we’ve never claimed to be smart.
We highlighted that fact by leaving from Ft. Bragg at 2230 the night before Best Ranger started. It would begin at 0600 the following morning. “We should make it right when it starts,” Tim confidently intoned on the phone that morning.
“You know we could just leave this afternoon, dude,” I pointed out.
“I have to train for my fight,” was what I got in response. Images of being used as Tim’s punching bag that weekend because he was pent up and angry at his lack of training flashed through my mind. Morning person or not, I was suddenly very cool with leaving in the middle of the night.
“Also,” Tim told me as we started driving. “I’m not allowed to eat crap food, and you’re going to make sure I don’t.”
“You’re twice the size of me and a professional fighter. What, exactly, am I going to be able to make you do, Tim?”
“I’m not allowed to eat crap, Tommy.” Tim reiterated. This new responsibility was immediately tested when we pulled into a South Carolina gas station for gas and caffeine.
Tim went right for the nut raisin mix and “good snacks.” I got zingers, two hot dogs, and Cool Ranch Doritos.
“That’s not very nice,” Tim told me as we got into the car, my mouth full of a delicious Ball Park Frank. “Inside of me is a fat kid just busting to get out. That’s why I have to be really careful of what I eat.”
“Is that why after they retire all fighters get fat for a little bit?” I asked him as I took a bite out of my first Zinger, ignoring the look of lust on his face.
“Yes,” Tim said simply as I stuffed anotherfatty, sugary concoction in my mouth. He did not look amused.
“I always wondered about that,” I said, finishing off the first Zinger and moving to the second in the pack. Hey, I didn’t have a fight coming up.
About 2:30am I racked out for about an hour and a half, only to wake up in the ghetto. Not a bad area of town, not a “lower class” residential area, the flat out ghetto. Complete with a sleazy motel that appeared to have at least two working girls walking men into upstairs rooms and the homeless guys coming up to the car to ask for change.
“Your turn to drive,” Tim says smiling and hopping out of the car, not caring where we are.
An oddity of everyone in the Ranger Up universe is that we all drive manual transmission vehicles, and Tim is no different. What is different about Tim’s car is that the top of his shifter isn’t in anyway secured to the rest of the shift lever.
“What the hell?” I asked out loud as the black knob was suddenly no longer able to assist me in shifting to 2nd gear.
“Yeah, it does that,” Tim remarked as he quickly fixed the problem. “Oh, and Tommy,” he told me as he reclined the seat a little more and stretched out. “I accidentally opened your Red Bull when you were asleep and drank it. Night.”
We arrived at the Ranger Training Brigade looking and feeling like zombies at exactly 0600, right when the competition was beginning. We linked up with Mike and Candyass (pronounce Can-dis, not candy-ass, weirdos) who are in charge of running the event and dealing with sponsors like us. The hooked us up with a schedule and packet of info. We were told that the competition had just started, with a run in body armor instead of the tradition al PT test to kick it off. The run was going to end at the start of the Darby Queen obstacle course, another traditionally early event in the competition.
Damn, they look tired already. I thought as I watched the first two teams come down the chute at the end of the first event. The course must have been muddy and extremely wet judging by the uniforms and mud splattered numbers of the contestants. With barely one event done it was clear that Best Ranger was already living up to its reputation as a suckfest. It seemed like barely ten minutes past before the teams that had just done a buddy body armor run were getting lined up, sans body armor, and getting ready to run the Darby Queen obstacle course. Many already looking tired and displaying the “you’ve got to be kidding me” look on their faces.
We also linked up with Uncle Jimbo and Matt from Blackfive.net, who were down at the competition to film and do some reporting for the website. While this meant that they got to go places in and around the competition that mere mortals and a “VIP, Sponsor” like Tim or I could not, it also meant that they had to walk around with the pink brand of a media credential around there neck.
“I have to keep telling all the guys we aren’t your typical press weasels,” Matt told us about two minutes into talking to him at the Darby Queen. “And pink, really? Pink?” Matt said shaking his head. Press 0 Rangers 1
At the starting point of the Darby Queen we had the privilege of running into Ranger Regiment’s Special Troops Battalion Chaplain, Jeff Struecker.
“I have to go shake his hand,” Tim said when he saw him standing off to the side. I completely concurred.
Now, if you don’t know the name and/or you are scoffing at that, Google him right now. Seriously.
Jeff (and he has told me repeatedly over the years to call him that, which is the only reason I’m not writing Chaplain Struecker) is a literal living legend of bad assness going all the way back to the Ranger assaults into Panama in 1989. His military accomplishments read like something out of a Hollywood script and the stories that I’ve been told about him from men that served with him when he was still kicking down doors are the stuff that would get rejected by Hollywood as unbelievable, which is fine with him.
Jeff loves his Rangers and all the soldiers he has the chance to come in contact with more than anyone can imagine and is one of the nicest people I have ever met, and (oh yeah) also won Best Ranger in 1996. He was out to cheer on the seven teams from the 75th Ranger Regiment and went so far as to get all the guys that were watching the event from Regimental headquarters run alongside the teams as they went through the final portion of the Obstacle course. There have been many Chaplains in my chain of command, and frankly many of them I’ve just put up with because I felt like I had to. That is definitely not the case with Jeff. He is one of the best people I have ever had the privilege of meeting. No matter what your religious preference (or lack there of) he is an awesome human being and a man anyone on the planet would be proud to associate with, unless it’s the guys his Ranger’s are tryin to kill.
He was also gracious enough to do an interview with the guys from Blackfive. You should definitely take a second to see if they’ve posted it yet, it’s well worth the time.
As the Darby Queen wrapped up Tim turned to me and said, “I’m hungry.” It wasn’t what he said, or even how he said it. It was the look in his eyes. The one that seemed to say “if we don’t find me food or aren’t at least moving towards it in 10 seconds, I’m going to eat you whole.” Tim told me that in order to keep his training up at a high level he has to consume 4,000 calories a day, and apparently we were failing at that mission. A massive Cracker Barrel breakfast later and it was out to the weapons ranges for machine guns, moving targets, and the first of two stress shoots for the competition. The Best Ranger committee threw a fun wrinkle into this year by making the weapons for the moving target range M-1 Garand rifles instead of the M-4’s. I thought it was a cool little twist, but judging by the amount of misses I’m not sure that the competitors thought that.
At the machine gun range I also ran into one of my RIP (Ranger Indoctrination Program) TACs tailgating and waiting for the 75th teams to shoot. I only wish I’d had the idea first.
Following the shooting events it was day land navigation and the always-brutal 18 mile Russ Rippetoe Memorial foot march for the competitiors, and a nap and the welcome event (complete with free beer) for Tim and I. Tim can’t drink – this whole training for a fight thing again – so I drank for him. I gave it my all until the keg was floated. We had the privilege of talking to the family members of those who started the Best Ranger Competition, men who served and fought during D-day, Korea and Vietnam among other places.
The following day we headed over to the Army Combatives School so Tim could work out with his fellow Ranger up fighters Damien Stelly and Andrew Chappelle. Also there was the Godfather of Modern Army Combatives, Matt Larsen, who also runs the gym.
You will, however, have to tune in next week to find out about what happened- it is a story in its own right. Complete with me getting the shit kicked out of me, Nick being Nick (even if he was 500 miles away) and all sorts of other Ranger Up insanity.
A pit stop to get Tim fed and we were back out at the Best Ranger Competition for the day stakes. At the end of the first day the field had been whittled down to 29 teams with SFC Blake Simms and SFC Chad Stackpole of 4th Ranger Training Brigade in the lead by 29 points over US Army Special Operations Command team, and former winners, MSG Walter Zajkowski and MSG Daniel Jenkins. MSG Zajkowski won in 2007 and MSG Jenkins took home the title in 2002. My boys in the 75th Ranger Regiment were in 4th and 5th place and trying to catch the 3rd place team of MSG Eric Turk and SGM Jesse Boettcher, who were also from US Army Special Operations Command. While some competitors were wilting, SFC Stackpole and SFC Simms seemed like they were just getting started. Seeming to get stronger as the competition was going, they set the standard for the Day Stakes and powered on through the night land navigation lanes.
Tim and I, however, were powering up to go to the bar, the glorious Ranger institution that is Scruffy Murphy’s in downtown Columbus, GA. You are told as a Ranger private that if you and your Ranger buddy are ever in trouble you should yell “Ranger down!” and help was on the way. If you ever yelled “Ranger down!” in Scruffy Murphy’s odds are you’d end up having the guys from B-CO 3rd Ranger Battalion fighting the A-CO 4th Ranger Training Brigade instructors, and heaven help the newly minted 21 year old specialist from 3rd ID if he got caught in the mix. It is one of the few places on planet Earth that there are Budweiser “welcome home” signs that have a Ranger Scroll on them, seriously.
Tim and I linked back up with Matt and Jimbo, already two pints of Guinness into the night when we arrived (good for them) when Jimbo handed me his phone.
“Hey here’s what Nick just sent me,” he cackled. I took his phone and read:
If Tommy passes out, shave him clean. Nick.
Awesome, thanks Nick.
A quick pint of Guinness in my hand and the night was ready to begin. Some of Tim’s friends showed up and as they were all sitting around B.S.ing I was talking with Matt and Jimbo, when she walked in.
This girl exists in every bar across America. She will do anything for attention, anything – up to and including walking around in horrifically bad, two sizes too small pink lingerie like it was a dress, pink argyle socks and black fishnet gloves like Madonna wore back in the early 80’s. She’ll do this, mind you, even though she looks like a troll and hobbit got together and produced offspring. She’s the girl that if you see your men out at the same bar you go over to tell and tell them they will be doing PT with you at 6am the following morning if you see them even so much as talking to her. Then you reiterate the need to always be at MOPP level- 4 because, well, they’re privates and you know better. In short, she’s the one person you hope would just go away. But she never does, she just churns through the bar like a tornado.
“What the fuck is that thing?” I couldn’t help but blurt out when she walked in, hands over head and 90% of her bra showing from under the cheap lingerie and loud enough that I could hear every word that came out of her mouth over the live band.
“Oh man, what the hell?” Matt said next to me, turning away from the train wreck that had just walked through the door. I, on the other hand, turned to the group of girls that seemed to be talking to her on friendly terms.
“Ok, I’m sorry to have to do this because I know it’s what she wants, but what the fuck is up with your friend?” I asked the girl closest to me.
“Oh she’s not my friend!” The girl told me, her look clearly expressing distain and disgust. “I have no idea what she’s doing, she just came up to us and talked to us.”
“Got ya,” I said as I turned back to Matt. “I bet her mother was a meth addict or something, cause dude- that’s just horrific.” Matt just smirked.
A nice person just lets it go at this point. They accept that there are people in the world like that and that’s all there is to it. I’m not that person.
“Hey,” I said walking up to her by way of greeting. “Does your mother know that you’re out here tonight like this? Seriously, don’t you think that it’d worry her a little bit that you forgot your clothes?”
“I don’t care about my Mom, she’s an asshole,” Pinky told me. I couldn’t help but wonder where The Brain was.
“I hate to quibble, but wouldn’t your Mom technically be a bitch, if anything?” I asked. “I mean I don’t know but that just seems like it would fit better, even if I do think you’re being a bit harsh on Mom on the eve of mother’s day.”
“My Mom’s a crackhead, I could give a fuck what she thinks.” Pinky said turning away and prancing away towards a new group of people.
“I guessed the wrong drug,” I told Matt as I found my way back to my barstool. “It was crack, not meth.”
The night settled into an ok time of having a beer and chilling with friends, when I felt an arm around my shoulders. I started to turn to see who it was when I got flash banged from a camera going off. As the cobwebs cleared from my head I see Matt smirking from behind his camera phone and Pinky scurrying off. Thanks, Matt (asshole).
The night resumed its laid back vibe of hanging out with friends and telling stories about the stupid things you’ve done in your life. Tim, who went to SF as part of the 18X “SF baby” program, met a kid “Z” who had just graduated basic and was headed to Airborne school and then SFAS. Good dude, and after being told Tim holds just about every record there is for an SF baby remarked, “that’s cool, I’m going to beat them.”
“I like you, good luck, and you don’t have a prayer.” Tim told him.
Day three found us late to the helocast event. Tim’s phone was supposed to be the alarm clock, but he mis-set it and we woke up late. When we arrived and checked the board the team of SFC Stackpoole and SFC Simms had the competition all but locked up, firmly in the driver’s seat. A link up with some friends and a double-checking of the standings, coupled with an 8-hour drive and the decision was made that it was time to go. As we drove back we got a text confirming the winners.
Congratulations to SFC Blake Simms and SFC Chad Stackpole of 4th Ranger Training Brigade for an almost wire to wire win in the most arduous military competition in the world, Best Ranger! Congratulations are also in order for MSG Walter Zajkowski and MSG Daniel Jenkins, who placed second, and a team of my boys, Sgt. Michael A. Malchow and Sgt. Jesse A. Collins, of the 75th Ranger Regiment fought on to the Ranger objective and placed 3rd. Below is a list of the 24 teams that completed the competition. For something like Best Ranger that is one hell of an accomplishment in and of itself.
1st – Team 21 with 2,483 points – Sgt. 1st Class Blake A. Simms and Sgt. Chad E.W. Stackpole, 4th Ranger Training Battalion, Ranger Training Brigade, Fort Benning, Ga.
2nd – Team 22 with 2,396 points – Master Sgt. Walter J. Zajkowski and Master Sgt. Daniel E. Jenkins, U.S. Army Special Operations Command, Fort Bragg, N.C.
3rd – Team 7 with 2,165 points – Sgt. Michael A. Malchow and Sgt. Jesse A. Collins, 75th Ranger Regiment.
4th – Team 8 with 2,151 points – Staff Sgt. Brandon K. Farmer and Staff Sgt. Luke R. McDowell, 75th Ranger Regiment.
5th – Team 31 with 2,138 points – Staff Sgt. Michael C. Mutchie and Staff Sgt. Miguel A. Antia, 4th Ranger Training Battalion, Ranger Training Brigade, Fort Benning, Ga.
6th – Team 46 with 2,094 points – Capt. Samuel E. Linn and 1st Sgt. Robert F. Carter, 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.
7th – Team 23 with 2,050 points – Sgt. Maj. Jesse D. Boettcher and Master Sgt. Eric J. Turk, U.S. Army Special Operations Command, Fort Bragg, N.C.
8th – Team 29 with 1,976 points – Sgt. Jeremy K. Billing and Cpl. Troy V. Jenkins, 75th Ranger Regiment.
9th – Team 43 with 1,970 points – 1st Lt. Thomas M. Halverson and Michael J. Luth, 4th Brigade, 4th Infantry Division.
10th – Team 27 with 1,920 points – Staff Sgt. Benjamin C. Hunter and Staff Sgt. Ian B. Hunter, 75th Ranger Regiment.
11th – Team 16 with 1,904 points – Staff Sgt. Raylan J. Heck and Staff Sgt. Adam J. Angisanio, 6th Ranger Training Battalion, Ranger Training Brigade, Camp Rudder, Fla.
12th – Team 33 with 1,864 points – 1st Lt. Chris S. Migliaro and Sgt. 1st Class Jordan A. Martell, 4th Brigade, 4th Infantry Division.
13th – Team 24 with 1,863 points – Maj. Jose D. Salinas and Maj. Edward A. Sedlock, 199th Infantry Regiment, Fort Benning, Ga.
14th – Team 17 with 1,852 points – Sgt. Edward F. Killmeier and Spc. Michael E. Pierce, 75th Ranger Regiment.
15th – Team 20 with 1,779 points – Maj. Pete S. Kranenburg and Sgt. 1st Class John S. Przytulski, 1st Special Warfare Training Group.
16th – Team 26 with 1,735 points – Capt. Ronald L. Garberson and Capt. Anthony B. Aguilar, U.S. Army Special Operations Command, Fort Bragg, N.C.
17th – Team 49 with 1,638 points – Sgt. 1st Class Mark E. Breyak and Sgt. 1st Class Steve W. Fields, Special Warfare Center Noncommissioned Officer Academy.
18th – Team 5 with 1,592 points – Sgt. 1st Class Derek G. Wise and Sgt. David M. Paul, 25th Infantry Division.
19th – Team 14 with 1,554 points – Capt. Stephen P. Magennis and Capt. Todd M. Tompkins, Maneuver Captains Career Course, 199th Infantry Regiment.
20th – Team 45 with 1,534 points – Capt. Lloyd B. Wohlschlegel and 1st Lt. Raymond A. Kuderka, 25th Infantry Division.
21st – Team 38 with 1,516 points – 1st Lts. Anthony J. Kivlehan and Alex B. Armstrong, 4th Brigade, 4th Infantry Division.
22nd – Team 35 with 1,492 points – Capt. David M. Cochrane and Staff Sgt. Anthony L. Fuentes, 6th Ranger Training Battalion, Ranger Training Brigade, Camp Rudder, Fla.
23rd – Team 28 with 1,310 points – Capt. Robert B. Killian and 1st Lt. Grant R. Barge, 10th Mountain Division.
24th – Team 34 with 1,297 points – 1st Lt. Lauren A. Gore and 1st Lt. Benjamin R. Juvinall, 4th Brigade, 1st Infantry Division.