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Why the Best Ranger Competition is one of the hardest races in the US military

Think you’ve got what it takes to compete in Best Ranger? Hate to break it to you, but probably not.

Ever participated in a Warrior Dash, Spartan Race, or one of the other dozen ‘challenge courses’ popping up around the country?

They’re team-based events that typically feature a combination of difficult and/or ridiculous obstacles set over a several-mile course. Participants can expect to see such offerings as low-crawling under activated tasers, spear throwing, rope climbs, etc. They can last anywhere from an hour to most of the day.

These types of races, while fun, are generally focused more toward the physically fit (or at least physically mediocre), and not for the casual participant whose cobweb-covered gym equipment is collecting dust in the garage.

The US Army has taken this concept to a whole new level of badassery with the Best Ranger Competition, a soul-crushing race taking place at Ft Benning GA over 63 grueling hours.

Originally created by Richard Leandri and other local business sponsors in 1982 as a way to show support to both the local Ranger community and his personal friend, legendary infantryman LTG (ret) David Grange Jr, the event has evolved over the years into the one of the most challenging competitions in the entire military.

In its current form the Best Ranger consists of 50 two-man teams and is open to qualified applicants throughout the Army and other services (by exception).

While the exact structure of the race changes every year, competitors can always expect to face weapons skills and military tasks, long marches with heavy gear, brutal obstacles, land navigation and very little sleep.

While early iterations of the race were closed to most spectators, many of the events are now public, and have begun to be broadcast live.

The 2021 race was held last April, with 1LTs Vince Paikowski and Alastair Keys being declared the Best Rangers. They overcame one of the most challenging courses to-date.

Think you’ve got what it takes to compete in Best Ranger? Hate to break it to you, but probably not.

Competitors in the 2021 event began their day at 0600 with an opening ceremony at Camp Rogers, GA. Immediately following the formal presentations the participants conducted a buddy-run for several miles in boots and combat uniform. Once that’s complete teams moved to the Malvesti Obstacle course, where they faced a series of increasingly difficult, exercise, log, and rope-style challenges. Many of the events involve crawling or falling into water, making already sweat-soaked uniforms even heavier.

After the O-Course, the teams moved to Victory Pond for a timed swim across the water. Once that’s complete, the participants begin another buddy run to the McKenna training site over various types of broken terrain, taking several hours. Did we mention they’re now wearing body armor?

Once they reached the McKenna training site they completed another obstacle course, this one in urban terrain, dragging simulated casualties, climbing (and jumping off) buildings, and carrying weighted litters.

After the obstacle course, competitors were airlifted via UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter to the Wagner sniper range, where they acted as a spotter/shooter team to take out 5 enemy targets at distance.

When they completed the event at Wagner, teams moved to another range where they competed in a 3-gun challenge, using M4 carbines, M17 pistols, and M500 shotguns to score points in both accuracy and time.

Because you can never shoot too much (and this is an Army event), teams then had to complete an M4 qualification to standard with a zeroed weapon.

Once teams had both members shoot, they moved on to a modified ACFT (Army Combat Fitness Test), since everyone knows the best time to take a PT test is after 6 hours of exercise.

After the physical events, teams got a small breather while they’re challenged with tasks like assembling various military weapons and equipment, after which they collected their gear and finished up the day like any good rangers, by walking for miles with a full rucksack, gear, and no idea how far they have to go.

The distance is kept a secret, but the event started at 1900 and goes until 0100, so you can do the math.

Exhausted yet? I’m tired just writing this.

After 18+ hours of running, marching, swimming, climbing, and shooting most people would be proud to accept a participation medal, take a few selfies for their social media accounts, and go home to shower.  But the teams competing in Best Ranger are not most people. In case you weren’t keeping track, this is just the end of day 1.

When (if) teams completed the march, they moved into hours of day and night stakes (situational military and physical challenges), like radio assembly, night shooting, grenade throwing, mortar placement, and first aid tasks before conducting a stress shoot.

For those of you who have never tried to shoot a weapon after several minutes of intense exercise; it’s pretty hard.

Teams still in the running got a short rest and then prepared for the night orienteering event. A vehicle picked up participants and took them to a predetermined point in the training boondocks of Ft Benning. They had maps and a protractor, as well as a sealed bag with a radio and GPS for emergencies. They were given a 10-digit grid coordinate and used their maps to navigate overland, avoiding roads and other teams to find that location. Once there, (and if at the correct spot) spotters gave them the grid location for the next point, and so on.  If any team spoke to another, used roads, or opened their emergency bag for any reason they received a penalty or were disqualified depending on the infraction.

The night orienteering event closed out day two and went well into the morning on day 3. Teams had another few short hours to rest before moving onto the infamous Darby Queen obstacle course. From there they were picked up by another helicopter and dumped (literally) back into Victory pond for their combat water survival assessments. Those still remaining finished up the afternoon with a mortar and LAW shoot (who wouldn’t want to watch guys competing for high explosive accuracy), and finally a buddy-run across the finish line.

After 63 savage, back-breaking hours, Paikowski and Keys were declared the Best Rangers of 2021.

If that doesn’t get your blood up then I don’t know what else will. But for those of us who love watching servicemembers push themselves right to the edge in a display of physical and technical prowess almost unmatched in civilian circles, the Best Ranger series is available now on Fox Nation, and for a limited time military members and veterans can click here to get a free one year subscription and enjoy Best Ranger as well as other amazing programming absolutely free.

This article is sponsored by Fox Nation.