FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- They may be sore, tired and a bit sunburned, but two 10th Mountain Division (LI) Soldiers will return to Fort Drum this week with heads held high, having placed 11th in the David E. Grange Army Best Ranger Competition.

Three 10th Mountain Division teams were among the 50 who began the grueling 60-plus-hour competition Friday morning at Fort Benning, Ga. When the dust settled, Team 11 -- consisting of 1st Lt. Christopher Gaziano and 1st Lt. Matthew Slocum, both of 2nd Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment -- stood proudly among the 21 teams who had completed the event.

The six Soldiers, coached by Master Sgt. Douglas Clark, who was assigned to the 10th Mountain Division Light Fighters School to lead the team, and Staff Sgt. Daniel Shea, a marksmanship instructor with the school, had begun preparing for the event in early January.

Shea said each of the Soldiers was extremely dedicated to training for the competition.

"They were strong to begin with, but now I think they are really ready to go out there and do their best," he said just days before the event. "I know that -- above all else -- they will represent the 10th Mountain Division well."

Gaziano said that being paired up with a teammate who challenged and encouraged him was essential to the team's success as they trained.

"In order to be competitive in this event, you have to push yourself and you and your teammate have to push each other," he said. "We are in the same company, so we've worked together and deployed together -- we know each other well and that helps."

Slocum said that he and Gaziano were proud to represent the 10th Mountain Division, and the Catamounts, who had four Soldiers participating in the competition.

"Our unit holds Rangers to a high standard," Slocum said. "We always talk about earning the tab every day by pushing ourselves. It's humbling to work with such a great group of Soldiers every day."

Lt. Col. Christopher Hammonds, 2-87 Infantry commander, said that the competitors live the Catamount values of professionalism, integrity and excellence every day.

"Our competitors at this year's Best Ranger Competition exemplify these values in their thoughts, words and -- most importantly -- their actions," he said.

Hammonds said that these leaders set high standards for all the Soldiers within the unit to follow.
"My expectation for our BRC competitors and Catamount Rangers is that they daily live the Ranger Creed -- to move farther, faster and fight harder than any other Soldier," he continued.

"Direct leadership by example is most influential, and these Rangers are charged with bearing this burden every day under any conditions."

Clark said that it was Gaziano and Slocum's work ethic and drive to succeed that sustained them throughout the competition.

"They are two Soldiers who are proud to be part of such a fantastic division," he said. "They wanted to do their best to represent the 10th Mountain Division well, and I think they accomplished that."

Fellow Catamounts, 1st Lt. Noah Currie and 1st Lt. Jack Leetun, along with 1st Lt. Ted Delicath of 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, and 1st Lt. Sidney Blecher, 3rd Squadron, 89th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, Fort Polk, La., also represented the 10th Mountain Division in the competition.

Clark, who will retire in less than two months, said that he felt honored to have had the privilege of working with the six Soldiers, all of whom he said were "dedicated professionals."

"It's been a privilege to represent the 10th Mountain Division and to get to work with such a high caliber of Soldier," he said. "It's rewarding to me to see that the young leaders who are coming up are very capable of continuing the great legacy of those who came before them."