Nearly 35 teams survive three-day battle of endurance
April 19, 2012
By VINCE LITTLE
FORT BENNING, Ga. (April 18, 2012) Fort Bragg, N.C., can lay claim to the world's sharpest, most durable set of Army Rangers -- at least for the next year.
Master Sgt. Kevin Foutz and Sgt. 1st Class Thomas Payne, representing U.S. Army Special Operations Command, emerged from a pack of 50 teams to win the 2012 David E. Grange Jr. Best Ranger Competition. They outdistanced Staff Sgt. Raymond Santiago and Staff Sgt. Chad Acton of Fort Benning's Ranger Training Brigade and Sgt. 1st Class Zach Phillips and Staff Sgt. Matt Madiar, both of the Army National Guard, who wound up second and third, respectively.
"It's a pretty amazing feeling," Foutz said Monday. "We worked really hard for a couple of months and had a good game plan. … We really focused on what we thought we needed to do and came out here and performed. I think we stayed constant and solid the entire time."
The field held up relatively well at the 29th annual showdown, a 60-hour grind of physical endurance, mental strength and tactical proficiency that began early Friday morning.
Historically, 60 percent of competitors don't survive the weekend -- with most being eliminated or withdrawing due to injury. But 34 entries reached the finish line Sunday afternoon at Freedom Hall.
Foutz said his whole body was "sore and in pain" after the first day, when competitors tackled two road marches, the Darby Queen, day orienteering and an urban obstacle course.
"You just have to push through it knowing we have another two days of competition to get through," he said. "Everything here makes you a better Soldier."
This marked Payne's third appearance in the Best Ranger Competition, but it was the first for Foutz, who got some advice from his teammate.
"He told me, 'It's gonna be brutal. It's gonna be the toughest thing in your life.' And it was," he said. "We realized all along we were going to be a great team. Where my weaknesses are, he had strengths, and vice versa. … He dragged me along at some points in time; I dragged him along at other points in time. It's a team event. You don't go into it as an individual event."
Gen. David Rodriguez, U.S. Army Forces Command's commanding general, presented the Best Ranger Competition's signature Colt pistols -- reserved for the winning team -- to Foutz and Payne during Monday's awards ceremony at Marshall Auditorium in McGinnis-Wickam Hall.
"For a short 29 years, (this) has been and remains one of the premier events in our Army. It is without a doubt one of the most physically and mentally challenging events in the world," the general said. "The Best Ranger Competition demonstrates what it means to be a Ranger. … All the teams here are just a tremendous representation of what's good in our Army."
The Capt. Russell B. Rippetoe Trophy, which goes to the two-man team with the best combined time in two foot marches, went to Capt. Erik Edstrom and Staff Sgt. Sean McApline of the 3rd Infantry Regiment. They finished Friday's 15.5-mile foot march from Camp Rogers to Camp Darby in 3 hours and 15 minutes before covering that night's 14.8-mile trek in 2:56.
McApline ripped a groin muscle two weeks ago but managed to capture his second straight Rippetoe Award.
"Every Ranger epitomizes the attributes we want in our leaders today -- adaptive, innovative, resilient, courageous," Rodriguez said. "They're trained to prevail over the toughest challenges and use their skills to overcome seemingly impossible odds, and accomplish the mission no matter what.
"I know the Rangers will continue to answer the nation's call to accomplish the toughest missions in the most demanding environments. … We're in our 11th year of combat. You have served the nation with courage, honor and upheld the Ranger Creed and Army values. America has asked a great deal of you, and you have over-delivered."
Capt. Benjamin Schenck and 1st Lt. Andrew Rinehart of the 101st Airborne Division claimed the Richard A. Leandri Award, given to the winner of Saturday's night orienteering event. Leandri, a Ranger Hall of Fame member, also was a founder of the Chairborne Rangers, the group that supported the creation of a "Ranger Olympics," which became the modern-day Best Ranger Competition.
Payne said every team had "phenomenal athletes and great Soldiers," and the battle is always intense.
"We're definitely all competing against each other, but there's still a strong brotherhood here," he said. "We're very respectful to each other. It's great to serve with them. At the end of this competition, we're all on the same team and looking at our (Ranger) tab."