More than 50 teams from across the U.S. Army and one from the U.S. Coast Guard would start the three-day competition, but on the final day only 16 would remain to be labeled the best in their units and the Army.
After moving by foot more than 60 miles and being awake more than 60 straight hours, a single 82nd Airborne Division team made it through the 2018 Best Ranger Competition at Fort Benning, Georgia from Apr. 13-15.
The division sent three teams to compete in the event, but on the final day only Staff Sgt. Carlos Mercado, a Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team paratrooper, and Staff Sgt. Christopher Hart, a Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team paratrooper, were able to proudly say they completed the entire competition and placed 14th.
Making it through the entire competition didn't happen by accident. Mercado, who placed second in last year's BRC, said they took experiences from years past and built a training plan around them.
"We took historical events that had been used in the competition before and focused on creating a physical and mental training program to train us better on what has been done in the past," said Mercado. "Obviously, they threw in some wrenches and played some reindeer games with us in this year's competition, so we'll take that information and use it to better ourselves in the future."
Throughout the competition half the teams were cut away each day. Mercado said the hardest part was staying aware of where they were ranked and knowing what they needed to do to avoid being cut from the competition.
"The toughest part for us, unfortunately, was trying to catch back up," said Mercado. "We lost a few points so we knew going into day 2 that we needed to finish in the top five in the foot march. We ended up coming in second place and that kept us in the competition, kept us in the fight."
Though teams train for a competition that's designed to test the toughest the Army has to offer, Mercado pointed out some areas they could have trained better in.
"Physically we crushed it, but I think we needed to just sit down and put our noses in the books and refine," said Mercado. "Tweak all those little technical things
"Also marksmanship. If we got more trigger time, if we could got to more ranges and different priorities of ranges, then I think we would move in the top 5, definitely, in this competition," he added.
His teammate, Hart, echoed Mercado's thoughts.
"I think we could have done better to train on different stuff," said Hart. "We needed to get more time with different weapons systems."
Though they may look back and say what could they have done better, Mercado said it's a humbling thought to know they made it through all three days and an awesome feeling to be back around the ranger community.
"Being back in Fort Bragg when you're beating everyone around you, it's very humbling when you come here and you're going against the best in the entire Army and it kind of puts you back into reality," said Mercado. "It kind of tells you, you need to keep training to get better. There's never a cap to any of this stuff."
As a first time competitor, Hart said he would be willing to do it again, but he would want to make sure they were better prepared.
"Next time we'd need more time to train," said Hart. "I think we need to start training earlier and have a more serious focus on getting the teams together and ready well ahead of time."
Knowing that next year will bring another BRC and another group of paratroopers that hope to represent the 82nd in the competition, Mercado said those paratroopers should try to obtain as much information as they can.
"Do not think that you already have this in your heart or it's already in your blood," said Mercado. It's not. You need to work for it."
"You need to go out there and you need to train and just focus and dial into this competition. If not, you're just going to go in and embarrass yourself," he added.
The other two teams that represented the 82nd Abn. Div. at the competition were also made up of paratroopers from 3BCT. Team 15 was comprised of 1st Lt. Colton Motz and 1st Lt. Tye Smarjesse. Team 15 was eliminated at the end of the first day. Team 16 consisted of Sgt. 1st Class Anthony Nagle, and Staff Sgt. Trent Miller. They were also dropped during the first day due to a medical injury.