Behind the scenes at Best Ranger, the Army competition for elite soldiers

Capt. Robert Killian climbs a robe during the Best Ranger competition on April 12 at Fort Benning, Ga. (Markeith Horace for the U.S. Army)

Capt. Robert Killian,’05 climbs a robe during the Best Ranger competition on April 12 at Fort Benning, Ga. (Markeith Horace for the U.S. Army)

By Dan Lamothe.
The Washington Post April 13, 2015

FORT BENNING, Ga. — Already exhausted, Army Capt. Robert Killian sounded very much Saturday like a man who had tried for years to win the Army’s Best Ranger competition, but had not yet reached the summit. The Special Forces officer in the Army National Guard had already finished 23rd, 6th and 2nd in previous versions of the contest, which pits some of the military’s top operators against each other in a 62-hour Olympics-style event focusing on military skills and endurance.

Small mistakes had cost Killian’s two-man team valuable points, leaving them in second place behind a team of soldiers from Fort Benning. “When I first started I wasn’t too technically savvy because I was just a triathlete and runner so I just said that I’d go in and do the physical stuff,” Killian said. “I thought it would get me ahead. You know, win the road march. Win the land [navigation]. But you really have to have the technical. That’s where people catch up, or you get a big point gap.”

Killian (The Citadel ’05 C Co.) and Capt. Travis Cornwall finished in second place for the second consecutive year Sunday night, losing to Sgt. 1st Class Jeremy Lemma and Sgt. 1st Class Timothy Briggs of the Airborne and Ranger Training Brigade at Fort Benning. The competition started with 51 teams, and was whittled to 24 a day later.

It marked the 32nd year for the competition, which was started in 1982 to honor retired Lt. Gen. David E. Grange Jr., a member of the Army Ranger Hall of Fame who served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. Grange, now 90, continues to attend the event annually and serve as an ambassador for the Army.

“The young men that go through this, they’re military athletes. There are no Sergeant Bilkos out here,” he said, referring to the famous con man soldier in the “The Phil Silver Show” TV series. “That’s the kind of people you get out here. They’re real winners.” Best Ranger includes 26 events on average, and has competitors doing everything from crawling through the mud to leaping from helicopters into water. One of its most famous events is the Tri-Tower Challenge, in which soldiers rappel down the side of a structure more than 200 feet high.

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