USASOC Ranger team comes out on top
April 20, 2011
- After 60-hour endurance test, Best Ranger Competition names winners.
- Sgt. Maj. Walter Zajkowski and Master Sgt. Eric Turk, both past winners, dominate the competition.
FORT BENNING, Ga., April 20, 2011 -- The "super team" of Sgt. Maj. Walter Zajkowski and Master Sgt. Eric Turk is the winner of the 28th annual David E. Grange Jr. Best Ranger Competition.
At an awards ceremony Monday, at Freedom Hall, here, Secretary of the Army John McHugh congratulated the finishing teams on their accomplishment.
"I can't begin to express how truly impressed I was," said McHugh, who spent Sunday watching the competitors battle through the helocast and water confidence course before racing through the final buddy run. "It's truly a test of tactical, mental and technical proficiencies and those are the tools that every successful Soldier, every successful leader, has to have on the battlefield."
Several VIPs and distinguished guests were in attendance, including Maj. Gen. Robert Brown, the Fort Benning and Maneuver Center of Excellence commander, and the competition's namesake, retired Lt. Gen. David E. Grange Jr.
"Just qualifying for this competition says that you're among the best. But by finishing it, you are the very best," McHugh said.
Zajkowski, a 2007 Best Ranger Competition champion, and Turk, who won last year, are the first repeat winners in more than two decades. Both are from the U.S. Army Special Operations Command, making it the command's third victory.
Turk is only the second competitor in Best Ranger Competition history to win the competition back to back. Sgt. Paul Scurka won in 1985 and 1986.
Teams from the 75th Ranger Regiment and the Ranger Training Brigade rounded out the top three.
The second-place team of Staff Sgt. Charles Cogle and Spc. Chris Broussard were in a tight battle with Zajkowski and Turk leading into Sunday. But the team faltered in a series of missteps at the Darby Queen Obstacle Course.
Cogle said finishing second, while an honor, is bittersweet and the pair is already planning another run at the title.
Sgt. 1st Class Mason Riepe and Staff Sgt. Raymond Santiago, of the Ranger Training Brigade, came in third but didn't go home empty-handed. Riepe and Santiago were awarded the Richard A. Leandri Award for being the top night orienteering team.
The Capt. Russell B. Rippetoe Trophy went to 3rd Infantry Regiment's Capt. Hunter Southerland and Sgt. Sean McAlpine, who finished first in both road marching events.
Of the 50 teams that began the competition before dawn Friday, 31 crossed the finish line Sunday afternoon.
The rigorous, 60-hour endurance challenge tests the mental toughness, tactical knowledge and physical strength of the contestants, said Col. John King, commander of the Ranger Training Brigade, which puts on the event.
All competitors are graduates of the U.S. Army Ranger School. This year, nearly all competitors were combat veterans and more than half were first-time contestants.
The competition was first held in 1982 and has been canceled only twice - in 1991 during Operation Desert Storm and in 2003 at the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Historically, 60 percent of competitors don't finish the competition, with most eliminations occurring in the first 24 hours.
In a departure from previous competitions, this year's events featured two road marches and two night orienteering events.
Of the seven years he's competed in Best Ranger Competition, Zajkowski said Friday's combination of events was the toughest "Day 1" he's experienced. Sixteen teams were eliminated Friday, and three more Saturday.
Zajkowski said his strategy consisted of timing and opportunity.
The team pulled ahead early heading into Friday's day orienteering but "we still knew we had to pull ourselves up into first place, couldn't let our guard down," he said.
The pair dominated most of the events and remained in tight contention heading into the final day. The team moved into first place following the second night orienteering event and held on with enough points to win despite finishing seventh in the final buddy run.
Zajkowski and Turk were awarded the Order of St. Maurice and Colt .45 pistols.
1. Sgt. Maj. Walter Zajkowski and Master Sgt. Eric Turk
2. Spc. Chris Broussard and Staff Sgt. Charles Cogle
3. Staff Sgt. Raymond Santiago and Sgt. 1st Class Mason Riepe
4. Sgt. 1st Class William Greenwood and Staff Sgt. John Pasciak
5. Staff Sgt. Jason Santo and Sgt. John Isenberg
6. Sgt. 1st Class David Boesch and Staff Sgt. Thomas Payne
7. 1st Lt. Thomas Goodman and Staff Sgt. Bryan Achee*
7. Sgt. 1st Class Jerry Higley and Sgt. 1st Class Derek Wise*
9. Master Sgt. Jamie Newman and Sgt. 1st Class Jonathon Biltz
10. Capt. Nathan Lokker and Sgt. 1st Class Conrad Kaluzny
11. Master Sgt. Robert Carter and Staff Sgt. Thomas West
12. Capt. Hunter Southerland and Sgt. Sean McAlpine
13. Maj. Edward Arntson and Sgt. 1st Class John Rhoten
14. Capt. Randal Waters and Capt. Jonathan Norton
15. 1st Lt. Nicholas Fender and 1st Lt. Joshua Gorczynski
16. Capt. Danial Strathman and Sgt. 1st Class Robert Allen
17. Capt. Zachary Seidel and 1st Lt. Brett Latsha
18. Capt. Timothy Cox and Staff Sgt. David White
19. Capt. Joshua Hunsucker and Capt. Steven Ackerson
20. 1st Sgt. Joshua Pentz and Sgt. 1st Class Russell O'Donnell
21. Capt. George Rhynedance and 1st Lt. Kevin Werner
22. Staff Sgt. Kanaan Merriken and Staff Sgt. Matthew Zosel
23. 1st Lt. Benjamin Franklin and Sgt. Joshua Rolfes
24. Sgt. Peter Hartnett and Sgt. Christian Henry
25. Capt. Michael Herbek and 1st Lt. Travis Boudreau
26. Spc. Jeffery Journeycake and Spc. Cristobal Cruz
27. Sgt. 1st Class Brett Graves and Sgt. 1st Class Cedric King
28. Capt. Nicholas Stavros and Capt. Robert Mulkey
29. Capt. Thang Tran and Capt. Michael Luth
30. Maj. Aaron Bush and Maj. Reid Furman
31. Capt. Steven Crowe and Sgt. 1st Class Dustin Kirchofner
* Denotes a tie