FORT BENNING, Ga. -- Fort Benning, home of the Army's elite Rangers and their notoriously tough Malvesti obstacle course, hosted a local college baseball team here Oct. 10 for a grueling chance to get in a rigorous workout, Ranger-style.
Some 40 players from Auburn University's Tigers spent several hours struggling their way through the obstacles of what's officially called the Malvesti Confidence Course and its wall obstacles, rope obstacles, log obstacles and water obstacles, including one in which they had to swim and crawl through a muddy pond crisscrossed with barbed wire.
Their visit was hosted by Fort Benning's Airborne and Ranger Training Brigade at its Camp Rogers training area.
After a briefing about the rigors of Ranger School, the players, who arrived by bus in blue team T-shirts, orange shorts and athletic shoes, were formed into groups by Ranger instructors, all noncommissioned officers, and with the NCOs turned loose on their charges, it was on.
They dropped the students for push-ups, leg-lifts and other exercises.
And while they lay in the dirt, a Ranger NCO turned a green garden hose on them, soaking them through as they went through the exercises. When they tilted their heads back as part of an exercise, water ran from their scalps in rivulets.
And the NCOs provided them continual coaching and mentoring, Ranger School style.
"All the way down! I didn't tell you to come up!
"On your back! Hands on your belly. One-Two-Three-One! One-Two-Three-Two! One-Two-Three-Three!"
"Let's go! Move! Quickly!"
After a few minutes they were back on their feet and were told to run the rest of the way to the obstacle course, carrying a buddy as they ran. The brigade's NCOs were everywhere, shouting at them to speed it up, to keep it going.
Once at the obstacle course, an NCO demonstrated what they would have to do at each station.
Then, in teams of four, they began their progression through each stage of the course.
There was the series of walls they had to run up to and get over. Then pull-ups. Then the 20-foot rope climb. Then the log climb. Then the horizontal ladder, also called the "monkey bars," which are positioned over several feet of muddy water. Then comes a series of pools of muddy water they have to crawl and swim through to reach the end of the course. One part of the water course is crisscrossed overhead with barbed wire.
From start to finish, the course was a time of sweating, grunting, straining and muscle fatigue.
All the players go through the Tigers' team workouts several times a week. They looked like athletes, carried themselves like athletes, and took on each challenge -- including that of being hosed down in the dirt -- without murmur or complaint.
But not without lots of sweating, grunting and straining to keep up.
Some players got through the obstacles on the first or second try. Some tried and tried but couldn't mount the rope or get across the monkey bars without falling into the water.
But their teammates urged them on.
Catcher Matt Scheffler, 21, of Seattle, is senior at Auburn, majoring in interdisciplinary studies.
He appeared to have relatively little difficulty getting through the obstacles, and found time to urge on those members of his team who were having trouble.
Though he's in good shape and hopes to make the major leagues of baseball, the Malvesti course pressed him hard.
"Definitely not easy," said Scheffler. "I looked up YouTube videos in preparation, trying to find what to expect a little bit. Watching videos and doing the actual thing don't compare at all. It was really fun, but it was definitely hard. Definitely a good team-building experience.
"I haven't climbed ropes since elementary school," he said. "That was probably one of the more challenging ones. Just 'cause after the first few obstacles you're already dead beat. And you really gotta find it deep down inside to persevere through the rest of the course."
During the briefing that began the morning, the ARTB's commander, Col. Matthew A. Scarpulla, spelled out what Ranger School entails for its students, and underscored the Rangers' stringent emphasis on teamwork and adherence to standards of excellence.
"We've been around since 1951 doing this same course," Scarpulla said of the Army's Ranger training. "We only produce the finest leaders for the Department of Defense. We do not change our standards. That should be the same with you inside of your team. You only produce the finest team members within your team. Do not lower your standards."
The brigade had hosted the Tigers at Malvesti several times before within recent years.
Tigers head coach Butch Thompson believes that exposing his players to the elite Rangers would deepen their understanding of teamwork, and also help train them to overcome their fears, all important considerations for athletes.
"I just think it's an experience that each of these players will remember for the rest of their lives," Thompson said as things were finishing up at the obstacle course.
And he was heartened at seeing his players helping this or that teammate who needed it.
"You can see the guy to the left and the right kind of trying to help him through some of these challenges," said Thompson. "And kind of see exactly what you want as a coach. You're starting to see some of these team building aspect take place right before your eyes.
"The team-building, the challenges that were presented, the teamwork that I'm seeing on display, as a coach, that's exactly what I wanted today."