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How the US Army’s Best Ranger competition uses days of grueling challenges to find the military’s best 2-man team

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Army Best Ranger competitionA US Army Ranger completes a rope crawl during the Best Ranger Competition at Fort Benning in Georgia in April 2022.

US Army/Spc. Ethan Scofield

  • US troops will gather in Georgia in April for the US Army’s Best Ranger Competition.
  • The annual competition uses days of grueling challenges to find the US military’s best two-man team.
  • Troops from other services are also welcome, but to compete you have to be Ranger-qualified.

Every year, some of the best troops in the US military compete at the Best Ranger Competition, which uses days of grueling challenges to find the US military’s best two-man team.

The Best Ranger competition is organized and run by the US Army in conjunction with the National Ranger Association. The competition was established in 1982 by Dick Leandri to honor Rangers who fought in previous wars. Leandri was a close friend of Lt. Gen. David Grange Jr., a former Ranger instructor and Ranger department director, in whose honor the competition is named.

The 39th iteration of the annual event is scheduled to take place in April at Fort Benning, the home of US Army infantry and of the Rangers, with 51 teams from across the Army.

Army soldiers 101st Airborne Division Best Ranger101st Airborne Division soldiers compete in the Best Ranger Competition at Fort Benning in April 2022.

US Army/Spc. Kelvin Johnson

The challenges change slightly each year to reflect the Army’s current operational realities.

The competition draws the best of the best from across the military, but to qualify, participants have to be Ranger-qualified, meaning graduates of the grueling Ranger School, the US Army’s premier combat leadership course.

The event often includes Rangers from the 75th Ranger Regiment as well as Army Green Berets, and even Delta Force operators. But it isn’t limited to members of elite special-operations units. Ranger-qualified soldiers from conventional units, such as the 10th Mountain Division, 82nd Airborne Division, and 101st Air Assault Division, and even from academic institutions, such as West Point, take part.

Troops from other services are also welcome. Airmen and Marines have participated in the past. Military units usually hold internal tryouts to select a two-man team to send to the competition.

Army soldier Best RangerA US Army soldier from 1st Cavalry Division during tryouts for the Best Ranger Competition in October.

US Army/Pfc. David Dumas

The Best Ranger competition typically starts strong with a 10-mile run followed by a swim event and an obstacle course. The teams then have to complete the Army Combat Fitness Test with the highest score possible.

Next, the competitors have to complete a combination of physical challenges, such as a team buddy run with marksmanship activities, which is meant to test their physical fitness and marksmanship under duress.

The first day ends with the Darby Queen Obstacle Course, a mile-long course with 20 obstacles, followed by a nighttime ruck march where competitors have to find points using just a map and compass.

“The first day is designed to be physical. The organizers intentionally put the teams through a variety of physical challenges to wear them out and make simple tasks that much more difficult,” a Ranger-qualified Army Special Forces officer told Insider.

The second day usually begins with a stress shooting test and day stakes, during which teams stop at multiple lanes and have to solve challenges that test their soldiering skills and technical competency in tasks like first aid, radio assembly, and handling of weapons.

Army soldiers 10th Mountain Division Best Ranger10th Mountain Division soldiers complete a casualty evacuation lane during the Best Ranger Competition in April 2022.

US Army/Spc. Ethan Scofield

“You’re competing against the cream of the crop. The competition is unforgiving. The other teams will use any mistake you make to gain an advantage,” the Special Forces officer said, speaking anonymously because they weren’t authorized to talk to the media.

Throughout the three days of the competition, the grueling competition takes its toll. Typically only a handful of teams complete the competition. Finally, on the third day, the teams have to complete yet another obstacle course, jump from a moving helicopter into the water using the Helocast insertion method, and complete one last run to the finish line.

Last year, four teams from the 75th Ranger Regiment took the first four spots, with a team from the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command rounding out the top five.

Who’s a Ranger?

Army soldiers 101st Airborne Division Best Ranger101st Airborne Division soldiers during the Best Ranger Competition’s final buddy run in April 2022.

US Army/Spc. John Simpson

There are distinctions around use of the term “Ranger” that have generated debate inside and outside the Army.

The term is often used in reference to both Ranger-qualified troops and to members of the Army’s 75th Ranger Regiment

Ranger-qualified refers to those who have completed Ranger school, which is open to most US soldiers as well as members of other service branches.

To become Ranger-qualified, an attendee has to complete the a three-month leadership course, which is designed to push junior officers, noncommissioned officers, and more junior troops to their limits. Over 62 days, students go through progressively more difficult tasks with little food and sleep. They often lose significant weight during the course.

The 75th Ranger Regiment is a unit within US Army Special Operations Command. It is the world’s premier light infantry special-operations unit, and most of its members are Ranger-qualified — it is necessary to be to hold a leadership position at any level in the regiment.

However, not all Ranger-qualified troops serve in the 75th Ranger Regiment. There are Ranger-qualified soldiers across the US military, and Ranger-qualified troops aren’t necessarily considered special operators.

Stavros Atlamazoglou is a defense journalist specializing in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate. He is working toward a master’s degree in strategy and cybersecurity at Johns Hopkins’ School of Advanced International Studies.

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