All over the country thousands of young men — and now women too — dream of becoming U.S. Army Rangers, arguably the best light infantry regiment in the world. Only a very select few will earn their Ranger tab and even fewer will serve in the 75th Ranger Regiment. Rangers have a term that tends to finish any expression of excellence or proficiency among them, “And then some.” As in, “To be a Ranger you must be an expert marksman… and then some.” The Best Ranger competition may just be the ultimate, “And then some” expression of grit and determination.
Every year at Ft Benning, Georgia the Army conducts the David E Grange Best Ranger Competition. The event is named for Lt General David E. Grange who made three combat drops as a paratrooper in WWII and Korea and earned the Combat Infantryman’s Badge in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam during a career spanning an incredible 41 years in uniform. General Grange was a former head of the Ranger Department and the Commanding General at Fort Benning Georgia.
Fox Nation’s Peter Hegseth is the host of America’s Top Ranger on Fox Nation. Part documentary, part adventure programming this three-part series immerses you in this body-crushing, soul robbing 66-hour competition between more than 50, two-man Ranger teams in events that involve live-fire exercises and a grueling 20-mile forced night march with 55 lb. packs on. At the end of day one, almost half the teams are eliminated not because of injuries but because they have fallen below the points earned threshold to remain in the competition.
The writers here at SOFREP often roll our eyes and groan at the way the media can portray the military through the lens of the civilians who produce most of this type of content. Not this show. Host Pete Hegseth is a former Army National Guard officer and a combat veteran decorated for valor, so he is the right guy to make this story work. Ten minutes into this show just about any veteran with significant active duty time will identify with these Ranger-qualified soldiers as they endure bone-numbing pain, fatigue, stitches, lumps, blisters, and the injuries that result when soldiers work to the absolute limits of physical endurance.
In three episodes, Hegseth and Fox Nation cover the events in detail like a sports program with the competition between the two-man teams taking center stage.
This event spans 62 continuous hours of competition. There are no scheduled meals or sleep periods. The men of these teams repeatedly go from states of dry to soaking wet with one change of clothes. Ever present are a pack loaded with more than 50lbs of gear and their service rifle. It is one thing to participate in a Spartan Race for a few hours as a civilian; now imagine a 62-hour Spartan race with your nine-year-old child on your back and you get the idea of what this competition is like.
More than just physical fitness events, the Competition is about the core skill competencies of being an Army Ranger: The competition includes pistol, rifle, and machine-gun marksmanship, grenade throws, mortar set-ups, and the assembly and takedown of these weapons as well. These Ranger-qualified Soldiers also perform tactical room clearing exercises, airborne operations, waterborne operations, bayonet assault, emergency medical aid, land navigation, casualty evacuation by helicopter, and even the more mundane tasks like supply replenishment. No part of being a Ranger is left out of the grading of this competition.
One of the things that stand out is the incredible physical conditioning all the participants seem to be in. The average age is 28 years old. The troops average 5′ 10″ in height and about 165 lbs. Rather than the Best Ranger competition being about 21 years old supermen of exceptional size and mass, it is a competition between men of about average height and weight with extraordinary abilities.
In the 62 hours of this competition, the teams will traverse some 60 miles of uneven terrain interrupted by obstacle courses, bodies of water, rope and wall climbs, swims in full gear, and just about everything else that the organizers can think of to throw at them.
The competition itself is continuously evolving and changing with the mission and training Rangers receive. This is not just a competition of physical ability, it seeks to measure who is the best at mastering the fundamentals of being an Army Ranger.
It’s a testament to the Army’s physical conditioning programs that it can take men and women of normal build and train them up to this level of performance.
There is another notable aspect. Militaries around the world put out videos to show how tough they are. Some border on the ridiculous, like North Korean soldiers breaking concrete tiles with their faces or laying on broken glass bottles, or Chinese soldiers jumping through fire rings. Those are stunts for the cameras.
Peer adversaries watching the Competition would come away with a couple of very strong impressions about the Rangers and the U.S. Army in general:
1) The U.S. training program for its troops results in Soldiers approaching Olympic-athlete levels.
2) The U.S. has vast resources to lavish on training its soldiers.
3) For nothing more than the bragging rights of being called the “Best Ranger,” Soldiers volunteer to subject themselves to 60 hours of brutal physical punishment displaying a deep sense of personal pride in uniform, and exceptionally high morale and motivation.
4) Rather than being just a stunt for propaganda purposes, this competition dates back to 1982; it is a part of the internal culture of the American Army.
All three episodes are available on Fox Nation. While the winners of the competition held last April have already been announced, if you don’t know who won yet just watch America’s Best Ranger and enjoy the competition to the end.
SOFREP covered the competition here, but fair warning, it contains the names of the winners.
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