Dogface Soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment, 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team have spent countless hours preparing mentally and physically over the last four months across two continents for what will be one of the biggest tests of personal strength and endurance of their lives. First Lt. Jeremy Tuggle and 1st Lt. Austin Rutledge recently traveled over 7,000 miles from South Korea to compete against the rest of the Army’s most elite Rangers at the 37th Annual Lieutenant General David E. Grange, Jr. Best Ranger Competition, 16 through 18 April, at Fort Benning, Georgia.
The event is open to all qualified Rangers, but each division is allocated a select number of teams, so battalions must first battle it out to ensure the best of the best represent their division in the competition.
“We tried out in December and Lt. Tuggle and I found out about a month later we would be competing as a team; we’ve been training together since,” said Rutledge. “We were lucky to get a lot of tips and advice from former Best Ranger competitors in our unit.”
Tuggle, from Palm Coast, Florida, graduated from Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina, in May 2019, where he commissioned as an infantry officer. Tuggle is a graduate of the U.S. Army Combat Diver Qualification Course, Airborne, and Ranger School. Since his assignment to 2-7 IN in July 2020, he has served as the battalion adjutant and an infantry rifle platoon leader.
Rutledge, from Aurora, Colorado, graduated from the United States Army Military Academy in May 2019, where he commissioned as an infantry officer. While at the USMA, he played on the rugby team for three years, competed on the boxing team for one year, and was selected to study abroad in France at the French Military Academy. A graduate of Airborne and Ranger Schools, Rutledge joined 2-7 IN in September 2020. He will serve as a platoon leader following the Best Ranger Competition.
Training had its challenges as the two are still in the middle of a deployment. Before returning to the U.S. for the competition, both were deployed to South Korea as part of a nine-month rotation to support U.S. commitment to southeast Asia partners and allies.
“I was a platoon leader and Lt. Rutledge was doing staff work, so we had different schedules,” Tuggle said. “Fitness-wise we would do runs, rucks and our workouts together as much as possible. Sometimes we would find ourselves drawing weapons before lunch so we could work on tasks during lunch or practice ropes; just try to do as much as we could while we were not in work.”
The team traveled back to the U.S. with a few weeks of lead time to prepare for the competition. They credit Capt. Michael Martino, the 1st Battalion, 28th Infantry Division team coach, with helping them make the most of their time at Fort Benning.
“It was really beneficial to come back early. While we were at Camp Humphreys, we didn’t have the advantage of hills to train on, so we were able to get reacclimated with that here in Georgia,” Rutledge said. “We were also able to link up with the team from 1st Battalion, 28th Infantry. We’re all representing 3rd Infantry division, so we were able to do some training together.”
Starting in 1982, the competition has evolved over the past 37 years from one that was originally created to salute the best two-man “buddy” team in the Ranger Department at Fort Benning. Every year, the competition is reviewed and tweaked and has grown to what is currently in place for this year. The competition now seeks to determine the best two-man team from the entire United States Armed Forces. Events in the competition include marksmanship ranges, the Army Combat Fitness Test, obstacle courses, stress shoots, running, swimming and foot march events, during both day and night.
“We were able to get more time to practice on ranges since we’ve arrived, that was nice to be able to hop on some weapons systems that we hadn’t been using in a while,” Tuggle said. “The heat here back in Georgia was also helpful while we’ve been working out. Korea was still so cold for the start of our training. It’s been very helpful to getting acclimated before the competition.”
The area is still familiar to both members of the “CottonBalers” team as both graduated Ranger School about a year ago at the start of the pandemic. Both agreed that they never thought they’d return so soon but are excited for the opportunity.
“To get the opportunity to compete in this event and represent the division is very exciting,” said Tuggle. “Being here to see the other competitors, teams, and see how much they put into it has been very eye opening for just how big this competition is, so its very exciting to be here.”
“We are very proud of our Best Ranger team,” said Lt. Col. Christian Durham, battalion commander of 2nd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment. “Capt. Michael Martino and 1-28 IN have been a tremendous help talking care of our Soldiers while the battalion is deployed.”
The team has a dedicated cheering section from across the Pacific while they take on the events covering over 60 miles with no programmed sleep for 60 hours. They are one of three teams representing 3rd Infantry Division in the event requiring participants to be decathlon-caliber Soldier athletes and experts in the profession.
“Our unit was a big advocate to help get us to where we are,” said Rutledge. “We’re pretty honored, humbled to be able represent the division.”