RANGER UP: Bliss troops train for 2018 Best Ranger Competition

Capt. Jacob Cortez, a member of the Iron Training Detachment cadre, calibrates his M4 semiautomatic rifle while training for the David E. Grange, Jr., Best Ranger Competition at McGregor Range, N.M., Friday. For more on this story, see page 8A. Photos by David Poe, Fort Bliss Garrison Public Affairs.

Capt. Jacob Cortez, a member of the Iron Training Detachment cadre, calibrates his M4 semiautomatic rifle while training for the David E. Grange, Jr., Best Ranger Competition at McGregor Range, N.M., Friday. For more on this story, see page 8A. Photos by David Poe, Fort Bliss Garrison Public Affairs.

By David Poe, Fort Bliss Garrison Public Affairs:

(El Paso, Texas, Jan. 18, 2018)

When Staff Sgt. Jacob McKinley competed in the 2013 David E. Grange, Jr., Best Ranger Competition, he said going up against the military’s best was “humbling.”

“They are the Olympians of the military,” the 1st Armored Division Iron Training Detachment pre-Ranger instructor said of his experience. “It’s literally like being in the presence of an Olympian – like competing against the (23-time Olympic gold medal swimmer) Michael Phelps.”

The proverbial swimming pool was open last week when McKinley and the ITD ran four 1st AD Soldiers through their Best Ranger Competition challenge on Fort Bliss and the Fort Bliss Training Complex, Jan. 10 through Friday.

Soldiers from the 1st Armored Division breakdown their weapons systems while Sgt. 1st Class Reag Wood, right, the Iron Training Detachment senior Ranger instructor, looks on at McGregor Range, N.M., Friday.

The event marked the first time the group of four, which ended as a threesome after an injury, trained together as the 1st AD’s prospective team for the 34th annual Best Ranger Competition at Fort Benning, Georgia, April 13 through 15.

Although now a commercial event, the BRC started as an informal competition between Rangers at Fort Benning to honor retired Lt. Gen. David E. Grange, Jr., a past Ranger Department director and former commanding general at the Army’s infantry hub. Since then it has grown to challenge troops from all branches and is also open to non-military competitors.

Staff Sgt. Noah Seui, a 1st Armored Division Soldier, changes into clean socks following an endurance swim at Fort Bliss Jan. 11. Seui and other 1st AD Soldiers endured a 72-hour Ranger challenge in preparation for the 2018 Best Ranger Competition at Fort Benning, Ga., in April.

The ITD has been training Fort Bliss troops for the BRC since 2015. Last year the Iron Soldier team finished 17th out of 25 finishers, an improvement over the previous year and a tangible example of the ITD’s efforts to prepare competitors.

On day one (Jan. 10), this year’s trio, Capt. Tyler Nash, 1st Lt. Ryan Keith and Staff Sgt. Noah Seui, all from the 1st AD, started the 72-hour challenge with a Ranger PT assessment similar to what Ranger candidates would have to pass prior to going to Ranger school. ITD troops also oriented the competitors on what to expect over the local, three-day event.

Day two included a 500-meter swim and pull-up event, among other challenges. Troops continued to the 1st AD vehicle driving course where they completed a three-mile run with weapons and individual combat loads. After another push-up challenge, they proceeded to the Air Assault Course on West Fort Bliss for 5K runs and marches, along with other tests.

Iron Training Detachment cadre meet 1st Lt. Ryan Keith, left, at the end of the Replica Aquatic Center pool at Fort Bliss Jan. 11. Keith, assigned to the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, is slated to represent the 1st AD in the 2018 David E. Grange, Jr., Best Ranger Competition coming up in April.

On the evening of Jan. 11 and into the overnight, Soldiers were assessed on Soldier-specific skills such as Advanced Land Navigation and other technical areas in the most austere reaches of the Fort Bliss training complex. They ended the challenge at McGregor Range in southern New Mexico for a final day of evaluation, which involved displaying proficiencies on several weapons systems and later incorporating them into a final “stress fire” shoot in full body armor.

Training devices are staged at Range 23 at McGregor Range, N.M., Friday. The 1st Armored Division’s Iron Training Detachment put on a 72-hour Ranger challenge for this year’s Best Ranger Competition division team. The 2018 David E, Grange, Jr., Best Ranger Competition will be held at Fort Benning, Ga., April 13 through 15.

Sgt. 1st Class Reag Wood, the ITD senior Ranger instructor, said the intent of the local challenge was to best prepare the 1st AD team not only for the physical trials of the BRC, but the mental stressors as well. Three current ITD cadre have competed in previous BRCs.

“I believe mental toughness is the most important trait to have,” Wood said. “If you have physical shortcomings – those who find ways to deal with them can find success.”

While the goal may be to win, the senior noncommissioned officer said success for the 1st AD at the BRC will be more than just race times and scores – it’ll be about growth. Finding the Michael Phelps of soldiering within each competitor.

“Doing all of this with limited food, limited sleep and under extremely-harsh conditions has been a true test of what (the BRC) really is and we’re trying to mimic that,” Wood said. “The David E. Grange Best Ranger Competition is known as one of the toughest endurance races on the planet. (The ITD) is working to train a team so that (1st AD) can do better in the competition every year.”