Simply the best: RTB team wins 2013 Best Ranger
April 17, 2013
FORT BENNING, Ga. (April 17, 2013) -- For the first time since 2009, Fort Benning can lay claim to being the home of the Army's top two-man Ranger team.
Sgts. 1st Class Raymond Santiago and Timothy Briggs of the Ranger Training Brigade took top honors in the 30th Annual David E. Grange Jr. Best Ranger Competition, and were each presented with a Colt pistol and induction into the Order of St. Maurice during the official awards ceremony Monday at Marshall Auditorium.
The competition was a roughly 60-hour endurance test that began 6 a.m. Friday with opening ceremonies and a foot march and ended about 3:30 p.m. Sunday.
"I'm so happy," Santiago said. "I can't give enough thanks to my wife and kids. They've been the No. 1 supporters. They've dealt with my long times and long hours, but it paid off with the win."
Forty-nine teams began the competition Friday, but only 24 crossed the finish line to earn recognition at Monday's ceremony.
Retired Gen. Colin Powell, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of State, was the guest speaker at Monday's ceremony, and he took the time to commend the 24 finishing teams for their show of endurance.
"Over the past several days, you have demonstrated not only your physical and ability; you have demonstrated the strength of your character, your determination, your will to prevail no matter what the obstacle is," Powell said. "I know what you've gone through, I know what you've been through to prepare yourself for this challenge. I also know what your Families went through and the sacrifices they made, and I thank them for their support of your efforts."
Powell, a former Ranger himself, commented on his experiences he had while stationed at Fort Benning in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
"Of all the things that I did here at Fort Benning over that four-year period, it was the Ranger course that was the greatest challenge of my life at that time in my life," Powell said. "I was tested to the very limit of my mental and physical abilities. Almost 55 years later, I still remember everything about that course. I had to pass this ultimate test that I was given at 21 of age, and I did. I became a Ranger, and I was on my way, filled with confidence thanks to my experience here at Fort Benning."
Powell said the lessons he learned during his time as a Ranger shaped not only his military career, but also the rest of his professional life.
"Everything I've ever done since then, whether it was at a senior political level, a senior diplomatic level or a senior military level, it always reflected the lessons that I learned here in the four years that I spent at Fort Benning, Ga.," Powell said.
The 75th Ranger Regiment, another of Fort Benning's own, had a strong showing in the competition, as it produced the second-, third-, fourth-, sixth- and ninth-place teams.
The team of Sgts. 1st Class John Gendron and Joshua Horsager finished second, while the team of Sgt. 1st Class Samuel Leritz and Staff Sgt. Christopher Brousard finished third.
Staff Sgts. Ryan Flora and Philip Jewah finished fourth, Cpl. Kyle Piunti and Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Defer finished sixth and Staff Sgts. Christopher Peiffer and Joe Slocum finished ninth.
In addition to finishing second, Gendron and Horsager also won both 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, while the Leandri award is given to the winner of the orienteering event.
The only team not from Fort Benning to finish in the top five was the team of Sgt. Maj. Walter Zajkowski and Maj. Andrew Farina of the U.S. Army Special Operations Command in Fort Bragg, N.C.
Santiago had competed in previous years, finishing third in 2011 and second in 2012 before breaking through for the win this year.
"I didn't do anything differently this year," Santiago said. "I had the same train up. I think our train up plan works physically and for the technical stuff. I've been in third place, second place and now a winner. (Briggs), technically and physically, we match up well together. We never fought, compared to other partners who are always fighting all the time throughout the train up. With him, everything runs very smoothly. When we make a mistake, we pick each other up."
Briggs, a first-time competitor, said Santiago's experience in the competition was invaluable to him, and likely helped the team to take home top honors.
"I was the rookie," Briggs said. "I was the private out there, and there were times when things didn't go my way and it got in my head. He looked at me and he didn't get down on me, and he just said, 'Hey, let's forget this one. Let's move on. We're still in it.'"
Throughout the preparation for Best Ranger and the competition itself, Briggs said he felt the support of his fellow Rangers, friends and Family.
Once the competition was over, Briggs said that support only grew.
"I got calls from people back home and from old units, and I've just never felt so supported," Briggs said. "When I turned on my phone last night after three days, it just wouldn't stop. Just 'beep, beep, beep, beep, beep.'"
While the competition is valuable experience for the competitors, Briggs said the importance of the event to the Fort Benning community couldn't be overstated.
"So many people in the community and the Army have put so much into this," Briggs said. "It really would have been a punch in the throat had this not happened and if it doesn't continue to happen. This is a 30-year tradition, and hopefully it continues to go on. You really don't see the camaraderie between us and the other competitors that grows. I'll know those guys for the rest of our lives. This has to continue, and it really is very important."