FORT DRUM, N.Y. (Oct. 13, 2016) -- Before the sun had risen over the horizon, 25 U.S. Army Rangers from across the 10th Mountain Division (LI) had gathered Oct. 5 at Fort Drum's Light Fighters School to fight for the chance to represent the division in next year's Best Ranger Competition to be held at Fort Benning, Ga.

With a quick pep talk from the LFS first sergeant and commander and the issuance of Meals Ready to Eat, their 60-hour assessment had begun.

The sun slowly started to peek over the horizon when the Ranger Physical Fitness Test got under way, starting their official time. The RPFT includes two minutes each of pushups, situps and pull-ups and a five-mile run.

Immediately after the run, the Rangers slung their rucks and weapons and embarked on a 13-mile road march to their next obstacle.

"We're doing an overall physical and mental aptitude assessment," explained 1st Lt. Matthew Hall, operations officer with LFS. "This will give us a baseline level of what the Rangers are capable of, and after the initial assessment, we will be able to put all the candidates into an order of merit list."
Throughout the next 60 hours, the Rangers encountered marksmanship tests, orienteering (land navigation) both day and night, a water confidence course, and plenty of physical endurance challenges.

"This assessment aims to mimic that of the Best Ranger Competition with the amount of hours that competitors are up and exerting themselves," explained Capt. Travis Boudreau, LFS commander and event alumni.

At the conclusion of the water confidence course, the Rangers completed one final run to the Light Fighters School to cross the finish line near the Ranger Tab sign that marks the entrance of the LFS grounds, where they were greeted by a crowd of cheering Soldiers.

One of the finishers of the 60-hour test commented on his experience and what it means.

"It forces you to reevaluate what the tab means and what (you) need to do to continue to earn it," said 1st Lt. Jack McCarthy, platoon leader, D Company, 2nd Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment "Catamounts," 2nd Brigade Combat Team.

Boudreau explained what those selected at Fort Drum might encounter at the competition next year.

"The 34th Best Ranger Competition is executed at Fort Benning, Ga.," he said. "It is a three-day buddy team competition that identifies the best Ranger team in the Army and is considered one of the top 10 endurance competitions in the world."

"During the assessment, teams will cover anywhere from 70-90 miles, carrying a 70-pound rucksack, execute marksmanship, medical skills, airborne operations and a variety of different survival maneuvers that involve technical and tactical skill specific to their identifier," Boudreau continued.

In the face of self-selecting physical and emotional hardship, one might ask the question, why compete at all?

"If you don't test yourself every now and then, you'll get complacent," said 1st Lt. Jack Leetun, platoon leader with D Company, 2nd Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment. "So it's good to get punched in the gut once in a while and remind yourself where you started and where you're going."

The Best Ranger Competition, Fort Benning, Ga., is scheduled for April with slots for up to four 10th Mountain Division teams to attend. Results of this year's selection have yet to be announced, but final team rosters might be released early next month.