FORT BENNING, Ga. (Army News Service, April 24, 2008) -- Bert Tisserand watched the Best Ranger Competition for the first time last weekend as his son, Staff Sgt. Mitchell Tisserand, competed with Capt. Brian Braithwaite.

Bert said the competition wasn't what he'd expected. What he'd expected was a test of sheer strength and endurance. The tactical and technical aspects, like the combat lifesaver challenge, came as a surprise.

"The obstacles I expected, but the medical stuff - that was crazy. I had no idea what all he had to go through," the senior Tisserand said.

I have an ear for irony, and I couldn't help but think Bert could have been speaking about his son's recent battle with cancer. Parents try to prepare their children to expect obstacles in life. But cancer' That's crazy.

Mitchell was all set to compete in the BRC last year when the doctor handed him an ugly diagnosis. The 29-year-old backed out of the competition to concentrate on his recovery.

"But he didn't quit working out. He trained the whole time," his father said. "He wasn't going to let it get him down."

After finishing his last treatment in October, Mitchell set his sights on the BRC once again. He and Braithwaite took sixth place in the event last weekend.

Mitchell wasn't pleased with their standing, but given the fact that neither he nor his teammate had competed before, I'm impressed. And I'm awe-struck by Mitchell's resilience. "The Lance Armstrong of the military," Soldier called him.

It's men like Staff Sgt. Tisserand who keep me coming back to the BRC year after year. I meet men who relish the opportunity to push their minds and bodies to the very limit, waaaay beyond the limit of most of us mere mortals.

Take, for instance, the team of Staff Sgt. Miguel Antia and Sgt. 1st Class Chad Stackpole. Antia was diagnosed with bronchitis more than a week before the competition. By the end of day one, he was coughing up blood.

"I don't know how he made it through the night," his teammate said after the 16-mile road march. "Physically tough' Yeah, and he's got to be mentally tough to block out that kind of pain."

Antia shrugged it off. Most of the competitors who trained up locally had been sick at some point during the past few months, he said, and he blamed it on this crazy, erratic weather.
"We're in it for the long haul," he said.

Certainly it was a long haul from the 18th spot in the line-up - that's where they found themselves after a grueling day one - to a fifth-place finish. The first time competitors crossed the finish line wearing great big smiles.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr. spoke at the awards ceremony Monday at the Ranger Memorial.

"If the Army is the backbone of the nation, Rangers are the backbone of the Army," he said.
I couldn't have said it better. Thank God for men like Tisserand and Antia, both instructors with the Ranger Training Brigade, who have the backbone to bear up when the burdens they carry can't be shed like a rucksack at the end of the race. It does my heart good to know these men are training the next generation of Rangers.

(Bridgett Siter writes for the Benning Bayonet newspaper.)