Little did he know, six months after Spc. Sheldon Benjamin completed U.S. Army Ranger School, he would be the youngest to compete in the 2012 David E. Grange Jr. Best Ranger Competition, April 13-15, at Fort Benning, Ga.
"I am just so proud to be here representing my unit," said Benjamin, infantryman, Honor Guard Company, 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard). "I may be just 20 years old, but I have the will, training and the teammate to do well here."
In order to prepare himself for the grueling competition, Benjamin spent the last two months training with his teammate, Sgt. 1st Class David Garver.
"We train as we fight, so our team, team 23, had to push ourselves to the level of the competition and further," said Garver, infantryman, Charlie Company, 3d U.S. Inf. Reg. (The Old Guard). "Ben is a hard working Soldier that doesn't know how to quit, and that is crucial for the success of any competitor here."
Team 23 was one of 50 two-man buddy-teams that participated in the 29th year of this renown contest.
The Best Ranger Competition started, which started in 1982, was named after Lt. Gen. David E. Grange, Jr., a previous Ranger Instructor, Ranger Department Director and Commanding General of Fort Benning, Ga.
From start to finish, the competition placed extreme demands on teams' physical, mental and technical abilities in order to recognize which is truly the best Ranger team.
The 60-hour long event consisted of firing weapons, marching more than 40-miles carrying 75lbs of equipment, land navigation exercises and other timed events. There wasn't a specific event that gave Benjamin the most trouble, but an accumulation of all of the traveling.
"The most challenging part of the competition was all the constant movement," he said. "All of the foot marches and running was really starting to take its toll on my feet and my back, but I am young and my teammate would not let me stop because everything was timed."
He added that team 23's strongest event was the night land navigation where they placed second overall.
"It was very difficult running through the woods in pitch dark trying to find these point markers," said Garver, recalling the events. "After we collect the points, we had to literally sprint the last few hundred meters in order to make good time."
By the end of day two, Benjamin noticed that the field of competitors was beginning to dwindle down from 50 to 34 teams.
"Teams were dropping left and right, but I knew that we only had a short time left before all the pressure would be over. It wasn't easy competing against the other Rangers out there." Ben explained. "All I thought about was how I needed to stay focused, constantly hydrate and feed my body."
The time came for the last event of the entire competition, the infamous final buddy-run. One team after another, teams crossed the finish line and raised their weapon in air to signify completion.
"It was good to have the crowd cheering on our team as we crossed that finish line," said Benjamin. "Even though we didn't win the buddy run or the overall competition, I have memories and experiences that I will never forget."
Benjamin added that he plans on competing again sometime in the near future.
"I am thankful for a great partner that pushed me the entire way. I couldn't give up, mainly because my teammate wouldn't let me," Benjamin said humorously. "I am a young guy, but I want to encourage my peers to go to Ranger School now because of how it opened doors for me to compete at this competition."
There were two teams representing The Old Guard. Team 22, Capt. Erik Edstrom and Staff Sgt. Sean McApline finished in 8th place and earned the Capt. Russell B. Rippetoe Trophy, an award presented annually to the Road March Winners at the Best Ranger Competition and Team 23, Sgt. 1st Class David Garver and Spc. Sheldon Benjamin finished in 28th place.