FORT BENNING, Ga. (Nov. 27, 2013) -- Soldiers from across the country traveled to the National Guard Warrior Training Center at Fort Benning last week with their eyes set on a spot to compete in the 2014 Best Ranger Competition.

The 22 Soldiers from 13 states competed for nine open slots Nov. 20, to participate in the competition next spring. John Burns, assistant operations officer for WTC, said although the event offers limited slots for National Guard participation, he saw an increased turnout compared to last year.

"You have 54 states and territories out there and the Army National Guard is only going to get a few teams," he said. "We don't want to waste that opportunity. If the Ranger Training Brigade gives the National Guard two teams or four teams, we want to be able to send the best teams out there."

Burns said in addition to grueling tasks ahead, the Rangers are willing to sacrifice time from their units and full-time jobs to compete in the assessment and three months of additional training beginning in January if selected for competition.

"I asked every one of them why they wanted to do this because this is 24 hours of physical events," he said. "They just want to see where they stack up against every one else."

This year's assessment had three previous contenders aiming for another shot to compete. Maj. Keith Bell, S3 for the Warrior Transition Command, said the assessment is designed to offer a level playing field for newcomers and past participants. Regardless of past experience, they all have the same goals and determination.

"You don't come to something like this with any fear or doubt in your heart," he said. "They're not coming to compete in the 'good' Ranger Competition. They know they're going to be working hard."

The Soldiers started with a Ranger physical fitness test at 5:30 a.m., which consisted of pushups, sit-ups, a five-mile run and chin-ups. The next event was a 400-meter swim at Smith Fitness Center, followed by the obstacle course at Camp Butler. They completed of a series of mystery events, including a medical Ranger first response and weapons assembly.

As the sun went down and temperatures dropped, the Rangers were challenged with a 3.7-mile individual run and the tower assault course, requiring them to pull two five-gallon jugs over a slanted wall followed by a tower climb and a 16-mile foot march.

First Lt. Jose Moreno, who represented Rhode Island National Guard, said he was determined to improve his performance from last year and make it to the competition.

"Last year, I didn't know what to expect so it was a nervous feeling," Moreno said. "This year, I prepped myself to come here for a successful tryout. I expected to be a lot better than last year, but there is definitely some competition out here."

Staff Sgt. William Kocken, of 2nd Battalion, 127th Infantry Regiment, Wisconsin National Guard, said he only had the high expectations for his first time. He said he immediately noticed that the turnout of competitors was tough, but felt that his running and swimming abilities would give him an advantage.

"If you make to the competition and actually win, you have bragging rights that you're one of the best," he said. "Getting the Ranger tab was one of the most meaningful things I have done in my life and getting this would add icing to that cake."