FORT HOOD, Texas — Brave Rifles from the 3rd Cavalry Regiment logged over 215 miles in March and covered over 400 miles the past two months collectively during their train up for the 2021 Best Ranger Competition at Fort Benning, Georgia, and are getting prepared to compete in mid-April.
1st Lt. Brian Billings from 2nd Squadron and 1st Lt. Nick Layden from 4th Squadron, 3rd Cavalry Regiment arrived at Camp Rogers, located on Fort Benning for continued training at the end of March and will be representing the Brave Rifles this year for the 38th anniversary of the competition. The competition has evolved over the past 30-plus years and created to recognize the best two-person "buddy" team in the Ranger Department at Fort Benning. The event determines the best two-person team in the U.S. Army and runs from April 11-16.
Billings, an Infantry Officer from Webster, Wisconsin started seeking out a buddy for the competition last December. In January, he connected with Layden, an Armor Officer from Chicago, Illinois. They have been training together for over two months. Billings said this is an opportunity to compete and can open doors for other options.
"It's an opportunity to test yourself and why we go to Ranger school in the first place. It's part the path, but also a test for the individual and now the opportunity to represent the Regiment," Billings said. "It's an opportunity to have fun and get back into good shape. We both have aspirations of going to selection for Special Forces this fall, and it's a great way to create a new baseline for that training."
Last year, COVID-19 caused the cancellation of the Best Ranger Competition. Layden said that at times during COVID, it was easy to have excuses and let your mental and physical fitness slip. This is a great opportunity to show how training can continue with COVID mitigations.
"You have to push yourself mentally and physically for this competition. Being there with someone who is going to push you mentally and physically is important," Layden said. "One of the things I liked about ranger school is that there were many people there with the same common tasks and same common goals. It meant a lot to be there for what the school represented. Now, this is a test to show our Soldiers and ourselves that there are limitations with COVID and a lifestyle change, but you can still get into great shape, train with others, and it is still possible to do a lot of the things that you want to do in the Army."
The training required for the Best Ranger Competition has been mentally and physically challenging.
"Personally for me, more than the physical aspect has been the mental challenge. The tougher thing is changing your perspective and mentality because we have worked out 6-8 hours a day. If you had asked me three to four months ago that we would have days where we completed 24-26-28 miles, I would have said no way," Billings said. "Once we got past that hurdle, every week has become easier and easier. A few weeks ago, we would have been hurting after five miles, and now we laugh at that."
Layden said the mental transition from shelter in place since May of last year was a slow transition to train up. They had to ensure that we were getting all the boxes checked and forecasted training further out with COVID-19 mitigations and some delays.
"We continue to train and build up that mentality. We can see a transition as we run around the area in the footprint, not only in ourselves but in the Regiment as we are bringing back competitions. When you are going around and see that it helps and creates a better environment to train in," Layden said. "We had to take a break during the winter storm, and there was almost a week where we had a lot of ranges canceled during the storm. Brian had his home flooded. It was hard at times to keep training, but we just focused on the competition."
Looking ahead to the competition, Billings and Layden said they are focused on doing their best every day.
"The competition timeline is overwhelming. The reality is that every single task is going to be difficult, and nothing is going to be easy," Billings said. "You have to have the mindset that you focus on the task you are on and then move on to the next thing. Let's do our best one event at a time. Event by Event, Day by Day, and hopefully we find ourselves competing at the end."
Layden said that at Ranger School, it was one meal at a time, one task at a time, and now it is the same thing.
"Part of the challenge is that there are a lot of unknowns, and you don't know what your next event is going to be."
Billings said that it's all about teamwork and support from others.