FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — Two Fort Leonard Wood Soldiers are mustering up their grit and determination and heading to Fort Benning, Georgia, to compete for the title of Best Ranger team.
Both teammates are part of the U.S. Army Chemical Corps. Originally from Philadelphia, Capt. Reed Radford, is now the 84th Chemical Battalion operations officer. Capt. Zeke Dodd is with Company A, 84th Chemical Battalion, and is a small group leader for the Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear School’s Officer Training Department. Dodd said his family hails from Virginia.
The 39th Best Ranger Competition is scheduled to take place from April 14 to 16. The competition is designed to test the mental fortitude, physical stamina and tactical and technical proficiency of the competitors. In the past, the competition has had events, such as an obstacle course, rifle marksmanship, airborne operations, a 20-plus mile ruck march, bayonet assault, rappelling and military knots. The competition is scheduled to last for at least 60 continuous hours, cover more than 60 miles and offers no time for sleep.
“It is an honor to compete and represent the Maneuver Support Center of Excellence. Not everybody gets the opportunity to go to Ranger School and not everybody that is Ranger qualified gets the opportunity to compete in the Best Ranger Competition,” Dodd said.
Radford is no stranger to competing with the best of the best. Last year, he tackled the Best Ranger Competition; in 2021, he competed in the Lt. Gen. Robert B. Flowers Best Sapper Competition; and in 2019, he participated in the Best CBRN Warrior Competition.
“Part of our (Ranger Creed) is 100 percent and then some. I feel a sense of duty to compete and show the rest of the Army and the rest of the world our capabilities,” Radford said.
Having both a Ranger tab and a Sapper tab has been useful when competing in the past, Radford added.
“It helps. I used some of the skills they cover in the Sapper Leader Course, but don’t cover in Ranger School at the last Best Ranger Competition,” Radford explained.
They are also using Radford’s unique insight as a former competitor to help them prepare. Radford said he has noticed the teams that do well have an advantage in everything — sometimes even as small as a toothbrush.
“We have been using tips and tricks, like breaking the handle off your toothbrush, so it weighs a little bit less. Just little things like that,” Radford explained. “That advantage might seem small, but it all adds up.”
Dodd said they make a good team because they balance out each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
“I think some of the tactical tasks might be more challenging for me than Reed. He is stronger at knots than me,” Dodd said.
“You are a better shot than me, though,” Radford replied.
The team has been preparing for several months for next week’s competition. Dodd said he was primarily strength conditioning before they started physically training together in January.
“I like to think of the competition like an ultra-marathon with obstacles and tasks thrown in. I went from doing about 10 miles a week to over 50 miles, basically overnight, to make sure my endurance and cardiovascular health is where it needs to be to compete,” Dodd said.
Radford said one of the hardest things about the competition for him is not the physical stress he will have to endure.
“The mental aspect is the most challenging part for me,” Radford said.
Dodd said he is hoping their attitude will help them be competitive.
“We have a good mentality going into this. We are not only going to compete — we want to have fun,” Dodd said. “This is an opportunity to do a lot of things that most Soldiers will never get to do in their entire career.”
Dodd said he and Radford are proud to represent the Chemical Corps and want to use their experience to encourage more CBRN Soldiers to be Rangers.
“When I was younger, I wanted to do every high-speed thing that I could. I wanted to rappel out of helicopters and jump out of planes. Ranger School was a challenge that afforded me that opportunity,” Dodd said. “I feel like the Chemical Corps might be a little less represented. We want to show that there are a lot of competent and qualified Chemical Soldiers.”
In addition to showing off the soldiering skills of his regiment, Dodd said competitions at this level are critical to the Army’s future.
“There is an entire generation and entire communities that have very little exposure to the Army,” Dodd said. “I think there is a lot of talent out there, and hopefully, competitions like these highlight the best opportunities the Army has to offer. Hopefully, we can inspire future Soldiers to want to serve and challenge themselves, too.”