For the first time since 1995, a team representing the 25th Infantry Division took home top honors at the David E. Grange Jr. Best Ranger Competition at Fort Benning, Ga.
The two-soldier team – 2nd Lt. Michael Rose and 2nd Lt. John Bergman – were able to come from 13th place after day one, to win the 31st annual Best Ranger Competition at the end of day three.
Rose and Bergman said they knew where they stood early on, but were focused only on completing the competition rather than winning.
"I wanted to walk away from it, whether we were dropped on the first day or whether we won, knowing that we gave it our best," Rose said.
Adding, "We couldn’t have done any better. Even if we had placed 26th or 50th, as long as I knew that we gave it our best, I would be happy."
The guest speaker at the awards ceremony, Adm. William McRaven, the commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, echoed Rose’s sentiments during his address.
"Being a Best Ranger is about being the best Ranger you can be," McRaven said.
Adding, "If you never let up, never quit and gave it your all, then you will go home satisfied that you represented your soldiers, fellow Rangers and your units well. That’s all any man could ask for."
Bergman said he knew after the first day that the team would have a chance to move up the leader board.
"We were here to compete and hopefully to finish – that was our goal," Bergman said.
He added, "We knew we were somewhere in the middle of the pack [after day one], and we were feeling pretty good physically. We were getting through every event and we knew there were so many events coming up that we knew we’d do well in, so we were excited for days two and three."
Rose and Bergman’s main competition was Team 32, representing the National Guard, comprised of Capt. Robert Killian and 1st Lt. Nicholas Plocar.
Killian and Plocar led after days 1 and 2, and even won the final event, a four-mile buddy run, but came up just short of overtaking Rose and Bergman.
Rose said after the final buddy run he was unsure who had won the 2014 Best Ranger Competition.
"I thought they maybe had bested us, but I wasn’t upset by that," Rose said.
"We came in focused on giving it our all, and we gave it our all, so if they beat us, so be it," he added.
Both winners said they were able to lean on one another to make it through the event’s toughest moments.
"As cliché as it sounds, without your buddy, you wouldn’t make it through," Bergman said.
He noted, "It’s extremely important to have your Ranger buddy with you so you can push each other the whole way through, through every event. That’s what kept us going – just trying to make sure we didn’t disappoint the guy that’s with us."
Rose said he could feel the cumulative toll of the three-day competition during the final run, but credited Bergman for getting him to the finish line.
"After three days of just going as hard as I could and giving it 100 percent for every event, I was just totally spent," he said. "My partner drove me through it. It was tough, but it felt good that I left it all out there."
In addition to winning the overall event, Rose and Bergman also took home the Capt. Russell B. Rippetoe and Richard A. Leandri awards.
The Rippetoe award is given annually to the team that finishes first in the foot march events; the Leandri award is given to the winner of the orienteering events.
Both Rose and Bergman have been in the Army for about a year and a half, and it was their first Best Ranger Competition.
While they were happy to have won, Bergman said the experience of meeting their Ranger peers was just as important as the victory.
"It was an amazing experience to be around those high-quality individuals," Bergman said.
"They’re guys who have done so much. We’ve only been in the Army for about a year and a half, so it’s hard for me to imagine what the guys we competed against have done for our country. For us to be able to compete on a level with those guys and do well was just amazing."
McRaven said all the competitors embodied the Ranger motto, "Rangers lead the way!"
"None of you would be here today if you were not intent on leading the way," he said.
He added, "No matter what unit you are from, you came here to show that you are leaders. You demand the best from yourselves and your fellow soldiers. You lead the way in garrison, on the battlefield and in society.
"You will forever be known as a Ranger, and all of your actions must serve to further the legacy of those that came before you. This Best Ranger Competition is no different."