Tips for Preparing for Best Ranger Competition
Annually the United States Army Ranger Training Brigade sponsors the arduous Best Ranger Competition at Fort Benning, Georgia. Now known as the “Lt. Gen. David E. Grange Jr. Best Ranger Competition,” the event began in May 1982 as a contest among members of the various training camps of the Ranger Training Brigade (then the Ranger Department). From that modest beginning it has expanded to include teams from Special Operations, Army Ranger, and airborne-qualified units. In addition, teams representing other services, foreign forces, and the Army National Guard enter the fray to prove their mettle. While some competitors arrive just wanting “to finish”, most are determined “to win”. During the competition, two-man buddy teams go head-to-head, Ranger style, overcoming 62 continuous hours of physically, emotionally, and intellectually demanding challenges to earn the title of the “best” 2-person Ranger buddy team. In the words of LTG (Ret.) David Grange, “This competition is not just to see who is the toughest or the most physically fit. It is to see who is mentally the strongest, the most determined to finish.” This AUSA NCO Training Tip offers recommendations on preparing for “Best Ranger Competition.” The authors, SSgt Kevin Teran and SSgt Jim Moran of the Ranger Training Brigade, are the winners of the 1999 “Lt. Gen. David E. Grange Jr. Best Ranger Competition”.
1. Overview - The 1999 Best Ranger Competition
In May 1999, forty-three teams assembled at the start line for the annual Best Ranger Competition. During three intense, unforgiving days, the two-man Ranger Buddy teams marched, ran or walked a total of 45 miles, demonstrated their prowess on 35 military skills, overcame two obstacle courses and a bayonet course, parachuted from a helicopter, jumped from a helicopter without a parachute into a lake, and swam to shore while manhandling a load weighing over 100 pounds. They had to prove their expertise in climbing ropes, rappelling, negotiating a land navigation course, and using the M-4 carbine and M-9 pistol against various targets. They did all of these things and more with less than 12-hours of sleep during the three-day ordeal. In the end, 20 teams crossed the finish line. The troops who struggle to win are more than world class athletes – they comprise a two-man team that exudes the U.S. Army Ranger ethos and the value of teamwork. As Colonel Frank Helmick , commander of the Ranger Training Brigade, emphasizes, “being a Ranger is about team work, giving everything for the mission, pride in being a Ranger, and pride in one’s unit.”
2. Components of the “Best Ranger” Competition
The hosts of “Best Ranger” keep the specific events secret until the teams arrive at the start line! At the same time, you should be prepared to excel in the following skills:
|ARMY PHYSICAL FITNESS TEST||EMPLOYING MINES|
|FOOT MARCHING||MOVEMENT UNDER FIRE|
|WEAPON QUALIFICATION (M4, M9, M60, M246)||CALL FOR FIRE|
|WATER CONFIDENCE||RANGE ESTIMATION|
|WEAPONS ASSEMBLY||EMPLOYING HAND GRENADES|
|SPOT JUMPING||PRUSIK CLIMBING|
|HELOCAST SWIMMING||LAND NAVIGATION|
|OBSTACLE COURSE||BAYONET COURSE|
3. Unit Support for Individual Participation in “Best Ranger” Competition
Unit support for Best Ranger competition is key. Your unit chain of command must underwrite participation by giving you and your partner permission to compete, time to train, and access to training resources such as ranges, climbing areas, swimming pools, ammunition, land navigation courses, and obstacle courses. They also need to afford you the chance to practice your airborne skills.
Some units allow competitors to train for 6 months. Other units grant less than two months. Experience indicates that to have a shot at winning, a competitor needs 3-6 months to train.
4. Unit Runoff Competitions
In most cases, units will conduct streamlined versions of “Best Ranger” competition to eliminate weak teams and identify the strongest individuals. The best qualified will probably be combined to form buddy teams. If you want to make it to Ft. Benning and Best Ranger Competition you need to be prepared to win your unit runoff. As a rule, unit leaders will choose soldiers that are in top physical shape all year long. Stay ready! How you do in this first unit competition will set the tone for the training and preparation that will follow, should you be successful. Regular PT of any type, as long as it is done regularly, should get you through this first phase.
Our unit staged a runoff in January 1999, roughly 5 months prior to the actual competition. Five soldiers were selected from the unit competition to train for Best Ranger.
5. Role of the Unit Coach
To build a winning team, you need a coach. This individual is central to developing the training plan, acquiring training resources, working with the unit chain of command, and ensuring the buddy team accomplishes tasks in accordance with proper standards. The team coach takes on the burden of planning and setting up training. This allows the competitors to focus on preparing for Best Ranger. An effective coach should have personal experience with the Best Ranger Competition and understand the nuances of the event. He should know what it takes to overcome the fatigue and pain that are an intrinsic part of Best Ranger in order to finish. He should have intimate understanding of how actual competition events are conducted in order to devise a realistic training regimen.
Our coach was SFC White. The unit selected him to be the coach in December 1998, around six months prior to the competition. He coordinated and executed the unit runoff, helped select the five troops who would ultimately train for Best Ranger, and designed the training program for the unit competitors.
SFC White was the ideal choice. He had competed in three previous Best Ranger competitions and had won in 1995. He had also coached a winning team in 1998. Troops in our unit respected him enormously and were confident that he could lead a winning team.
He conducted the unit runoff in January 1999 and helped select the soldiers who would continue to train for Best Ranger. SFC White based our team-training program on concepts he employed when he won in 1995 and when he coached the winning team in 1998.
6. Let the Training Begin
“There Is No Tomorrow” – SSgt Teran (May 1999)
To win you need to focus, focus, focus! Training for Best Ranger is excruciating. The only thing more backbreaking is the actual competition. Remember, the US Army trains as it fights and, for Best Ranger, you need to train as you will compete in the red mud at Ft. Benning. That means training in various kind of weather and times of the day. Ideally, you want to practice each task under the same conditions that you may face during Best Ranger. As training progresses, the coach serves as your conscience. He pushes you and your buddy to improve on each task when the pain, monotony, and rigor dampen your motivation. As time goes on, you’ll have the urge to cut corners, let up, skip events or even take days off. You must push yourself like a world-class athlete preparing for the Olympics. A good coach will support you by demanding that you give 100% in training in order for you to produce 100% during the actual competition.
The unit released us from most unit requirements to train for Best Ranger. We began our training program on January 5, around four months prior to the competition. We began working with the unit coach in earnest in early March.
If your unit does not provide a lot of time to prepare, be imaginative and come up with a training program that allows you to continue to improve your stamina and proficiency on tested areas. If you have to go to the field, continue to train. Do pushups and sit-ups on your own. Use sandbags as weights. Do pull-ups on tree limbs. If you want to win, you need to find a way to train.
Between March and May, we trained hard - Monday through Friday. We generally did not train on the weekends. We kept training interesting by varying the tasks and the intensity. We trained with the attitude that other teams were training harder than we were. The amount of time needed to prepare for Best Ranger events varies by individual, but you should expect to spend around 3 months in intense training. Those who arrive at Ft. Benning unprepared and out of shape do not last long.
Our coach coordinated all ranges, the obstacle course, training areas, vehicles, and similar resources Our unit S3 supported our training by scheduling ranges and other training areas and by allocating ammunition. He also assisted us in getting additional training with other units when necessary. This was particularly valuable in improving pistol marksmanship. We found it advantageous to train with military police units, who had more pistol range time than the infantry outfits.
6. Recommended Weekly Training Schedule
Our training program during a four-month period was divided into a weekly regimen. The intensity of training on each event increased as we improved and
got physically stronger. We trained hard for three months, steadily increasing the tempo. During the fourth month, we throttled back, decreasing the times and distances in order to insure we were well rested prior to the competition. At the same time, we did not completely stop training. We wanted to arrive at the competition at our physical and mental peak. We generally adhered to the following training schedule:
- Track work out. Consists of sprints at various distances, i.e. 400’s, 600’s, 800’s, and 1-mile repeats.
- Swimming. Start with a comfortable distance and continue to increase up to a mile.
- Gym. Concentrate on all muscle groups using high repetitions and low weight.
- End the day with a road march using a heavy rucksack (60 pounds) over short distances (4 to 6 miles).
- Slow run (20-30 min).
- Swim (500m).
- Obstacle course (walk through the first time).
- Practice all ranger stakes (weapons, grenades, map reading, etc.).
- Interval run (40 min) - alternate sprints with cool downs.
- Swim sprints (at least 10 each 50 meter sprints, consecutive).
- Gym workout (weight training).
- Mountain bike on rolling terrain (10 miles) or canoeing.
- Slow run (30-40 min).
- Swim (500m).
- Prusik climb (establish rope length at the beginning of training program and use the same length throughout your train up).
- Weapons range (zero range first; then pop-up range).
- Long run (50 min).
- Swim (1 mile).
- Gym workout (weight training).
- Road march heavy rucksack (60 pounds), at least 10 miles.
Saturday and Sunday. Rest as much as possible
7. Recommended Training for Best Ranger Events:
Because specific competition events are unknown until the Best Ranger Competition begins, we based our training on tasks, conditions, and standards prescribed by the Soldier Manual, Expert Infantryman Badge (EIB), the Physical Training Field Manual, and the Ranger Handbook. We used the following training techniques to prepare for Best Ranger Competition tasks:
Basic military skills. Each Tuesday, we would practice as many Ranger stakes as we could:
- Hand grenades. We made a 10-meter circle using engineer tape and practiced throwing dummy grenades into the circle from various distances.
- Knots. We tied a long rope between two trees and practiced tying the knots in accordance with standards described in the Ranger Handbook.
- Claymore mine. We practiced emplacing and recovering the claymore mine in accordance with standards prescribed by the Soldier Manual.
- Weapons assembly (M-4, M60, 9mm, and M249). We mixed all of the parts of the various weapons in a box and timed ourselves in putting the weapons back together.
- Map reading. We practiced routinely all aspects of land navigation and ensured we understood map-reading fundamentals. Included were converting azimuths and performing intersection and resection.
- Demolitions. We practiced timber cutting, steel cutting, and other types of charges in keeping with the standards described in the Ranger Handbook.
- Marksmanship. We didn’t know for certain which weapons we would be required to shoot during the competition. For this reason, we practiced our marksmanship skills using the M4 carbine, M9 pistol, M60 machinegun, and M246 Squad Assault Weapon.
- Pistol Marksmanship. We knew that the pistol shoot would probably be one of the major events in Best Ranger and we were determined to get first place. Consequently, we took steps to improve our skill using a pistol. In addition to practicing on the installation pistol range using unit weapons, we went to a civilian pistol range on our own time and used our own pistols and ammunition to improve our marksmanship. The extra work paid off. We won the overall shooting event and secured first place for the remainder of the competition.
- Land Navigation and Foot Marching. We practiced land navigation during our road march days (Monday and Friday) by plotting points on a map and moving to selected points. We did this about twice a month. In addition, we used the installation’s land navigation courses.
- Prusik Climb. The prusik climb has been a standard feature of Best Ranger for many years. With that in mind, we spent a lot of time fine tuning our climbing skills. We practiced actual prusik climbs on a standard length of rope, performing two of them each Thursday as timed events. Practicing on a standard length of rope allowed us to measure our improvement over several weeks of training.
- Obstacle Course. The best way to practice for an obstacle course is to breach the individual obstacles on the actual course. Unfortunately, there is only one Darby Queen, which is the obstacle course used during Best Ranger competition, and no one competing in Best Ranger is allowed to practice on the course prior to competition. Given this constraint, we found other ways to train. We increased our physical strength through an intense weight and conditioning program in the gym. We also capitalized on other installation obstacle courses, executing each event according to standard, constantly seeking to improve our team time.
- Bayonet Assault Course. We did not anticipate having to negotiate the bayonet assault course. But, even if we had, we probably would not have modified our training program significantly. It really served as a gut check during Best Ranger. Success required the team to move out smartly and aggressively complete the course. For those wanting to prepare for this event in the future, we recommend practicing basic bayonet assault techniques while emphasizing general physical conditioning.
- Spot Jumping. Spot jumping measures individual skill in parachute jumping and individual stamina. During the competition, troops use the MC-1 steerable parachute. Each competitor has five seconds to select his jump point before leaping from the helicopter. Each competitor strives to land as closely as possible to the designated circle on the ground. Start time begins once he lands. After landing, the competitor gathers his gear and parachute and runs to the circle. Once he and his buddy linkup in the circle, they must run with all equipment and chute to the finish line. This means running while lugging nearly 150 pounds of gear. We did not have the opportunity to actually practice jumping using the MC-1 parachute. As a result, our practice for this event stressed getting out of the parachute harness quickly, wrapping up the parachute, loading up personal equipment, double timing around 250 meters to a designated circle, and then proceeding as a buddy team to the finish line.
- Swimming Confidence. The best way to prepare for water-related events is to practice swimming skills and build up endurance. We incorporated this event in our training schedule and sought to improve our time in traversing known distances.
- Helocast swimming. We didn’t have the opportunity to actually practice helocast swimming. But, there really was no need. All that is required is to jump from a helicopter hovering over the water and swim to a designated area. The hardest part is swimming with equipment placed in a poncho raft. This means that we had to know how to make a poncho raft in accordance with the Ranger Handbook and have the strength to swim with our gear to shore. Once again, strong swimming skills were key to success.
- Canoeing. The best way to gain proficiency using a canoe is to rent or borrow one and practice paddling techniques as a timed event while concurrently increasing individual strength. We did this every other Wednesday afternoon.
7. Dress Rehearsal - Yes or No?
Some have asked whether or not it is advisable to participate in a “dress rehearsal” for Best Ranger. Such a rehearsal would allow an individual to practice executing selected events in real time under conditions similar to those that would be encountered during the actual competition. The advantages of this approach include replicating the physical duress one must overcome while performing tasks to standard.
We do not recommend a dress rehearsal. Either one is ready or he isn’t. We don’t believe that one has to practice being tired and miserable, it will come aturally. Even more important, a dress rehearsal exposes a competitor to unnecessary risk of injuring prior to Best Ranger. Bottom line: Stick to a methodical training plan.
8. Additional Training Tips
Keep the weeks relatively the same; just increase the times and distances.
Get as much weapon range time possible using M4 carbines and 9mm pistol.
Throw in alternate events, such as mountain biking, triathlons and canoeing, on Wednesday afternoons.
Run different routes to avoid monotony.
Road march with full equipment.
Practice everything regardless of how well it is known.
Two weeks prior to Best Ranger Competition reduce the intensity of workouts.
Practice good judgment and safety throughout training. Don’t do anything stupid that will cause injuries.
9. Training Diet. Get specific recommendations on a training diet from a physician and/or dietician. Our training diet was based on the following principles:
Eat balanced meals each day.
Drink plenty of water.
Avoid dietary supplements; train natural.
Avoid junk food.
10. Final Thoughts
There are two basic types of people that enter the Best Ranger competition - competitors and participants. Some arrive with the aim of simply surviving the challenges thrust upon them and to win a “t-shirt.” Such individuals usually fall out early on and even get injured. Competitors are there to win. They exude the guts, mental toughness, intensity, and burning desire to succeed that characterize the US Army Ranger. These are the folks that are champions, both at the Best Ranger Competition and in their units.
We heartily endorse Best Ranger Competition as a magnificent contest that allows you to test yourself against the best. It offers a unique opportunity to prove your skills as a soldier, both individually and as a member of a team. Train hard and be prepared for anything. Confidence in yourself and faith in your buddy will aid you in overcoming the fiercest moments of the competition. Don’t train for second place! Don’t quit! Be a champion!
RANGERS LEAD THE WAY!
SSG JIM MORAN and SSG KEVIN TERAN