News: 7th ID Rangers return victorious
Story by Staff Sgt. Dayan Neely
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. – Enveloped in Georgia’s muggy weather, throughout three seemingly-endless days of hardening challenges, two men battled the elements and their emotions to outlast the majority of fellow competitors and represent the 7th Infantry Division and JBLM at the 30th Annual Best Ranger Competition, April 12 through 15.
Capt. Aaron Chonko and Sgt. 1st Class David Floutier, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, with the assistance of their coach, Sgt. 1st Class Kristopher Barnette, 2-3 Infantry, took on the test of skill, intellect and endurance at Fort Benning. Chonko and Floutier, Team Four, were the only team to represent JBLM in the BRC this year.
“It was a long first day,” Chonko stated.
Thinking and moving on through exhaustion made for a good contest, he added.
“It seemed like a majority of the teams had someone that had competed before,” Barnette said.
Chonko competed in two previous BRCs, while Barnette coached two teams in the past.
“It was a little more physical,” Chonko said, in comparison to his prior experiences. “The additional items to our normal ruck weight [contributed].”
Half the teams were eliminated by the end of the first day, and those that continued didn’t sleep for the first 48 hours of the competition. Team Four needed to pull together and, at times, hold each other up mentally to move on with the top 24 teams.
“Everything was difficult the first 24 hours, as far as [being] the most physically challenging,” Floutier admitted.
To cap off an already trying first day, the team endured a night-long road march to guarantee advancement in the competition.
“They were really tested by the first night’s ruck movement,” said Lt. Col. Jarett Broemmel, 2-3 Infantry battalion commander. “Their mental toughness and physical preparation helped them overcome the challenge.”
Floutier explained how the event was more struggle than they had expected in their preparation. The requirement to pick up and carry extra gear throughout the march exemplified his point.
“This can’t be happening,” Floutier reflected on the march. “We’ve got to put this stuff down soon. They can’t make us keep carrying it.”
“You kinda just look down and keep walking,” Chonko advised. “As long as you keep moving, you’re continuing to push toward the finish line.”
Coach Barnette and family members were present throughout most of the competition to motivate Team Four.
“They needed some encouragement,” Barnette said.
I would scout the terrain ahead of the team and give them feedback, he added.
An airborne jump, lengthy water-confidence and obstacle courses, and live-fire marksmanship ranges were just some of the trials Team Four faced after surviving day one.
Floutier explained that this was the more enjoyable time in the competition, as teams rallied to motivate one another and supporters were more visible and influential on team inspiration.
“I felt like a kid at a baseball game, looking around,” Floutier said. “Where’s my wife? Where’s my mom? Where’s coach?”
Throughout the competition, there were challenges that created separation between teams. Doing every required task properly and in optimal time was the difference between first and 24th place.
“In the heat of the moment, there are certain decisions you make,” Floutier explained. “It completely sets you apart from everyone else.”
The last event of the competition was the buddy run; a two-mile team run in boots, carrying rifles.
“It was awesome,” Floutier beamed about crossing the last finish line. “It was one of the best feelings I’ve had in a while.”
“It’s like a self accomplishment,” Chonko exclaimed. “Oh! Finally! At last, I’m through!”
“It’s like runners’ high, but exponential,” he added.
Floutier and Barnette envisioned competing again, even minutes after completing the last event.
“I’m probably going to do it next year,” Barnette said. “I’m about 90 percent sure.”
“I definitely want to do it again,” Floutier stated. “It’s just whether or not it’s next year.”
After finishing his third BRC, Chonko has other plans.
“I think I’m done,” he sighed with relief, followed by team laughter. “This was my third one … I’m moving on, I’m out of the infantry role.”
“Before work and after work, it just takes away a lot of family time,” he added.
Going to Fort Benning, Team Four had the pressures of personal expectations and representing their unit and installation well.
“I’d say our goal before we went there was top ten,” Chonko claimed. “But, getting there and seeing the [competitors], and as the competition went on, we adjusted our expectations.”
Team Four received bountiful support from family, friends and their unit going to the BRC and coming back.
“It was overwhelming,” Chonko said. “We were thoroughly impressed with the amount of support from the battalion, brigade and division.”
“You saw what these guys can do,” Barnette said, in reference to the great help Team Four received from 7th ID. “Support those guys that want to do something like this.”
By competing in Georgia, Chonko and Floutier exemplified the caliber of soldier to come from 7th ID and brought attention to the importance of competitions like the BRC for all soldiers on JBLM. Finishing 17th out of 49 teams, made up of the Army’s elite, Team Four returned home victorious.
“I am proud and impressed by Capt. Chonko and Sgt. 1st Class Floutier,” Broemmel said. “They represented the 7 ID with distinction.”