By Maj. John Moore, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne DivisionApril 18, 2019
FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. - "All that dedication and time waking up - being in pain and knowing you don't want to do it again the next day; but, you have to continue to train your body, mind and hands..."
"Those five months are more difficult than anything," reflected Capt. John Bergman, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) leader and 2019 Best Ranger Competition winner, describing his grueling regimen of readiness while training for the mid-April competition.
"Once you get through that... as long as you did the training correctly, I'd say the train up was more difficult than the three days of competition."
Bergman, a native of Lawrence, Kansas, teamed with fellow 3BCT "Rakkasans" Capt. Michael Rose, a Roswell New Mexico native, to earn the honors and title of Best Ranger following the competition on Fort Benning, Ga. April 12-14.
Rose and Bergman began training together for the April 2019 Best Ranger Competition in October 2018 - "Spending all day, every day, from six in the morning to sometimes seven or eight at night," said Bergman.
"We logged about 1,200 miles between rucking and running - each," Rose emphasized.
Bergman and Rose started in October 2018 with ruck marches totaling about 35 miles a week and a minimum of 55 pounds in their rucksacks. They gradually increased the distances of their rucking: first to about 55-60 miles per week, then to 70-80 miles a week; and, eventually increasing to 110-or more miles every week. In addition, they participated together in civilian run races and trail marathons, some of which covered a 6,000-foot elevation gain over a 30-mile course.
Named for former Army Ranger Instructor and Fort Benning commanding general Lt. Gen. David E. Grange, Jr., the Best Ranger competition - created as a "Ranger Olympics in 1981 to identify the best two-man Ranger team - has evolved into a "grueling three-day event, designed to place extreme demands on each buddy teams' physical, mental technical and tactical skills as Rangers".
Such a description of the competition might make it sound as if vying for the Best Ranger title, much less achieving victory, possibly could be the potentially crowning culmination of an Army Ranger's career. However, this is not the case for Rose or Bergman.
Composed of 55 two-person Ranger teams, the 2019 competition marks the second time this "Dynamic Duo" partnered to not only compete, but win the entire event. While assigned to the 25th Infantry Division in Hawaii in 2014, Bergman and Rose took home the same title. Even more astounding is the fact that Rose made Army Ranger history with his 2019 Best Ranger win -- becoming the competition's first-ever three-time winner. He won the second time in 2017 while assigned to the 75th Ranger Regiment.
To many individuals, just training for and competing in a series of events such as the Best Ranger Competition would take a superhuman, superhero type of effort. The 2019 competition lasted nearly 60 hours; incorporated physical events including obstacle courses, foot marches and open-water swims; technical tests including demonstrating demolition skills and performing live-fire marksmanship ranges; and tactical challenges involving rotary-wing aircraft including repels into water and "fast-rope" insertions.
Given all these physical, mental and emotional demands, Rose said it is difficult for him to pinpoint an individual competition element that presented the biggest challenge. It was the cumulative effects of the more than forty consecutive events that tested them the most.
"Night land navigation, for me, is always the most challenging (however), it's because you're going on close to 60 hours of nonstop movement," Rose explained. "And then when the sun goes down, and it's 3 a.m., and you have a time hack to meet - that can be a little tough."
So how does one maintain concentration and motivation throughout the entirety and stressful nature of a competition covering several days and a multitude of challenges? Rose said the key is to not worry about your competitors and where you stand, but the focus on challenging yourself. Bergman agreed.
"You always pretend like you're in second place - always trying to fight and scratch your way to the top, giving it your all in every event; so that you don't have any regrets," he said.
The final day of competition consisted of only four events. Only four events.
The Darby Queen was the first event of the final day. This infamous obstacle course has 25 challenges to overcome, collectively designed to test the competitors' strength endurance and agility. Then, the competitors participated in a Helocast event, during which they prepared poncho rafts and raced to an awaiting aircraft. The Helo event continued above and in Victory Pond, where Best Ranger competitors jumped from the aircraft into the water and swam to shore. The third event consisted of a Combat Water Survival Test. Finally, the competitive phase of Best Ranger competition concluded the same way it began, with a buddy run.
Bergman and Rose have competed in the Best Ranger competition a total of five times combined, though not always together. Rose has reached his limit of three and no longer has the option of competing for Best Ranger. Three wins out of three competitions is a fine record, especially for a dad with a newborn child at home.
A father of three, Bergman has not indicated his intent for next year's Best Ranger Competition. He and Rose will both assume company commands in April.
Both Rose and Bergman said they will take time to focus on family; not losing sight of the sacrifices their families made while supporting them during their journey, and the hundreds of hours of training that went along with preparing for the 2019 competition.
When asked about motivation, both winners said that most of it came from wanting to inspire those around them. In that same spirit, they offered some advice that could apply to not only Best Ranger competitors, but all Soldiers.
"If you find yourself in a position where you're selected to train for Best Ranger and you're not having the time of your life, (then) you need to reevaluate what you're doing and what kind of profession you're in," said Bergman. "Showing our subordinates, peers and other people in our unit that no matter what you achieve, there's always something greater you can become (is my inspiration). You can reach a higher potential, if you put the work and dedication in."