RICHMOND, Va. — Fifty-three two-man teams started the Best Ranger Competition early on the morning of April 12, 2019, at Fort Benning, Georgia. Among the rangers to run across the start line were six National Guard Soldiers, three from Virginia, two from Massachusetts and one from Kentucky. The Virginia and Kentucky Soldiers are all assigned to Virginia’s 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team.
“This was one of the hardest challenges I have ever faced,” said 1st Lt. Richard Atkins, assigned to 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th IBCT, and one half of Team 51. For him and the rest of the National Guard competitors, the road to BRC started back in November, with a three-day assessment open to all ranger-qualified National Guard Soldiers. Atkins was selected to represent the National Guard along with Sgt. 1st Class Benjamin Lehmer, also assigned to 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th IBCT; Sgt. 1st Class Frederic Newton, assigned to the 229th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 116th IBCT; from Kentucky, Sgt. Jordy Brewer, assigned to 1st Battalion, 149th Infantry Regiment, 116th IBCT; and Capt. John Locke and 1st Lt. Sergey Eliseev, both from the Massachusetts National Guard.
In January, the six National Guard rangers started training for the BRC at Fort Benning.
“The training process was brutal,” Newton said. He adjusted his training plan right after being selected for the competition in November, adding long runs and building endurance in the gym. “About a week in, I realized that the train up was much more intense than I expected.”
“Each week was similar in structure, but our intensity increased over time to build up our mileage and weight for our ruck marches,” Atkins said.
“We basically trained 10 hours a day, five days a week through competitor week,” Newton said.
In addition to building their fitness and endurance levels, the ranger competitors trained at the range, improving their marksmanship skills with different weapons. They trained on obstacle courses and on technical tasks like poncho raft construction, land navigation, hand grenades and demolitions training until finally, it was time.
“There were several great parts to the competition, the first being the opening ceremony and seeing the World War II veterans lined up at the start line to great all the competitors,” Atkins said. Among the veterans gathered there, were a few original members of the famed Merrill’s Marauders.
After the opening ceremony, the competition started with a mass run. From there, rangers conquered the Malvesti obstacle course, then completed a weighted carry, swam across Victory Pond, pushed their way through a body armor run, then the urban assault course, an air assault event, proved their marksmanship skills on the ranges and then, at the end of the first day, they started the ruck march.
“The hardest part of the competition was honestly the unknown distance ruck march after the cumulative effects of all the back-to-back events,” Atkins explained. He said they carried their rucks from range to range, going non-stop with very little rest.
“Physically, the ruck marching and long runs were absolutely brutal,” Newton said.
As the competition rolled into the second day, only the top 28 teams were allowed to continue. They spent the second day of the competition working through lanes that included the Army Combat Fitness Test, mortars, and a grenade toss. From there, they moved on to a weighted carry, then night orienteering. In the final phase of the competition, only the top 16 teams were allowed to continue, conquering the Darby Queen obstacle course, a combat water survival assessment, and a two-mile buddy run to the finish.
“The biggest lesson I am taking away from BRC is that rangers always want to strive for excellence,” Atkins said. “Rangers will do everything in their power to succeed and to not let down their ranger buddy under any circumstance.”
None of the National Guard teams made it past the final cut, but the experience was still an incredible one.
“It’s important for senior NCOs in particular, as well as officers, to try things that are physically demanding and that reduce all the competitors to being nothing more than a competitor,” Newton said. “We, as leaders, have the responsibility to display the spirit of never accepting anything less than accomplishment of the tasks we set out to achieve.”
Both Newton and Atkins are hoping for the chance to compete again next year.
“I definitely want to compete again next year,” Atkins said. “After gaining three months of experience during the train-up and the actual competition experience, I have learned how the competition runs and what to focus on. I have a better understanding of how to approach the preparation phase for next year and what I need to be more successful.”
Capt. John Bergman and Capt. Michael Rose, both assigned to the 101st Airborne Division, were named the winners of the 2019 Best Ranger Competition.