News: Guard Soldiers participate in Best Ranger 2014 Competition
Story by Sgt. 1st Class James Downen
FORT BENNING, Ga. - The United States Army Airborne and Ranger Training Brigade hosted the 31st Annual Lt. Gen. David E. Grange Jr. Best Ranger Competition April 11-14, 2014, at Fort Benning, Ga.
Initially, the only Best Ranger competitors were active duty Ranger instructors from the Ranger Department. In 1987, Best Ranger went Army-wide and all Ranger qualified Soldiers from any unit could compete. The 2014 competition had 51 teams, four of these were made up of National Guard Ranger qualified Soldiers from Colorado, Kentucky, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas and Wisconsin.
One National Guard team, team 35, consisted of Michigan Army National Guard Sgt. 1st Class Steven Sparks of 2nd Battalion, 177th Regional Training Institute and Kentucky Army National Guard Capt. Ryan Hubbs of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 149th Infantry.
Best Ranger is a physical and battle skills intensive event. A competitor needs facilities such as firing ranges and rappel towers to prepare for the Best Ranger Competition. Active duty Soldiers competing in Best Ranger are stationed on Army posts that have the necessary facilities, receive time and support from their commands to train for the event.
National Guard Bureau recognized that National Guard Soldiers need the same training opportunities and put National Guard Best Ranger competitors on orders to the National Guard Warrior Training Center at Fort Benning, Ga., for three months to prepare for the Best Ranger Competition.
Sparks said, “This is my first time competing in Best Ranger. My Ranger background includes time served in the 3rd Ranger Battalion and F Company, 425th Long Range Surveillance. When I was a platoon sergeant with F Co. 425, my platoon leader, who was a first lieutenant at the time, Capt. Michael Simpson suggested we enter the competition. Unfortunately, Capt. Simpson wasn’t able to try out, but I was.”
Day one of the event started with an introduction of the competing teams, buddy run, Malvesti Obstacle Course, run to Victory Pond for swim and water survival events, buddy run to Krilling Range, stress shoot, buddy run to the day land navigation event and a night road march.
Family and friends are allowed to attend the Best Ranger Competition to cheer their family Ranger. Sparks’ father, Craig, and youngest brother, Tristan, were in attendance. Hubbs’ wife, Melanie Hubbs, and mother, Michelle Bridges, were at Benning as well.
Melanie Hubbs said, “I understand what this competition means to Ryan. While he was preparing at the Warrior Training Center, we were as supportive as we could be at the home front. We sent him encouraging notes and spent as much time on the phone with him as possible. We absolutely love Sgt. 1st Class Sparks and we’re expecting a child in September!”
The other National Guard families were boisterous and noisy, cheering for their Rangers. Several family members obtained cow bells with National Guard stickers on them and chased every National Guard Best Ranger Competitor that they could trail.
Warrior Training Center S-3 retired Command Sgt. Maj. John Burns said, “Families, you’ve taken that old noncommissioned officer axiom to heart. The louder you yell at your Ranger, the faster they do things. I learned this early on after making sergeant and your efforts did make a difference in their performance.”
Day two started at 2:30 a.m. for the Best Ranger competitors. The Rangers engaged in Warrior tasks until 5:30 a.m., conducted movement to Todd field and engaged in day stakes. Events included a casualty evacuation event based on the 1993 Mogadishu Black Hawk Down incident to air assault rappelling techniques. Between events, Rangers grabbed precious moments of sleep. Upon completion of the day stakes events, the Rangers moved to Camp Darby for night land navigation.
The final day began with the famous Darby Queen Obstacle Course, named for the World War II Ranger leader Col. Orlando Darby.
Hubbs said, “Best Ranger Competition is a lot of fun, except for the ruck marching. Every time you put that rucksack on, it’s a 52-pound beast and you add a 40-pound ammunition or water can to your load, it hurts! But, my home team is here, cheering me on and that mitigates the pain.”
After the Darby Queen Obstacle Course was navigated, the Best Ranger competitors conducted an airborne operation at Fryar Drop Zone. Each team jumped from UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters using steerable parachutes and was timed getting off the drop zone once they had recovered their parachutes. They assembled for the final event, the last three mile buddy run.
The finish line for the final buddy run at Freedom Hall was lined with bleachers filled with family, friends and some unit members waiting to see their Rangers complete the event. Media were staged behind the finish line to record the conclusion of the event. When the emcee announced that the Best Ranger competitors had begun their final event, the crowd let out a triumphant roar and eagerly awaited the approach of their Rangers.
Just shy of a half-hour, the Best Ranger competitors began crossing the finish line underneath a 2014 Best Ranger banner. Each team raised their “rubber duck” M4 carbine rifles over their heads as they reached the finish line and let out triumphant roars to celebrate three days of constant movement, physical and mental challenges and intense comradeship. Teamwork got them to this point and they finished the event as a two-man Ranger team.
Upon conclusion of the final buddy run, the final scores of the Ranger teams were tallied and the National Guard teams took the following places:
Second place: Team 32 Capt. Robert Killian, Colorado Army National Guard, and 1st Lt. Nicholas Plocar, Wisconsin Army National Guard .
Eleventh place: Team 33 Master Sgt. Jason Broyles, Texas Army National Guard, and Staff Sgt. Erich Friedlein, Pennsylvania Army National Guard.
Seventeenth place: Team 35 Capt. Ryan Hubbs, Kentucky Army National Guard, and Sgt. 1st Class Steven Sparks, Michigan Army National Guard.
Nineteenth place: Team 34 1st Lt. Jose Moreno, Rhode Island Army National Guard, and Staff Sgt. William Kocken, Wisconsin Army National Guard.
On April 14, 2014, the Best Ranger competitors who finished the competition were honored for their efforts in a ceremony held at McGinnis-Wickam Hall on Fort Benning, Ga. The guest speaker was Commander, U.S. Special Operations Command, Adm. William McRaven. McRaven spoke of how, early in the Rangers’ history, that they were sought to “lead the way” during desperate combat by 29th Infantry Division Commander Gen. Norman Cota at Omaha beach on June 6, 1944. McRaven praised the Best Ranger competitors for living up to the Ranger Standards set by their forebearers, recognized the combat veteran Rangers in attendance and the Rangers, competitors and Rangers in the audience alike, recited the six stanzas of the Ranger creed.
After the ceremony, Sparks met up with his father, Craig and brother, Tristan.
Sparks said, “It was an honor to come down and represent the Michigan Army National Guard. The opportunity to cross the finish line with the Best Rangers serving in the U.S. Army is a memory I’ll always cherish.”
Sparks’ brother Tristan said, “I was impressed with what the Rangers did here. I want to be a Ranger, too.”