Fort Bliss hosts grueling Ranger challenge

By DAVID BURGE | El Paso Times | Published: January 18, 2013

FORT BLISS, Texas -- Seventy-two hours without sleep is enough to test anyone's mettle.

Throw in a series of physical and mental challenges during those 72 hours and you have the makings of a pretty grueling event.

Call it the Army version of the decathlon.

That's what five Fort Bliss soldiers went through this week during the 1st Armored Division Best Ranger Competition, which ended Thursday. A Ranger is an elite infantry soldier.

The contest involved 72 straight hours of physical and mental tests with little or no sleep and minimal food.

Master Sgt. David Sanchez, the primary organizer of the event, called it the "ultimate test of mental and physical toughness."

Participants had to pass a Ranger physical fitness test, complete an obstacle course and do a "stress" marksmanship shoot after doing a full day of physical activity. And that was just the first day.

Participants competed to represent the 1st Armored Division and Fort Bliss on April 12-14 at the 30th Annual David E. Grange Best Ranger Competition at Fort Benning, Ga.

The top four finishers will join together and form two-man teams at the Army-wide competition, Sanchez said. The fifth-place finisher will continue to train and will serve as an alternate.

The Fort Bliss competition was designed to "test them to the limit," Sanchez said.

It was also supposed to re-create the strenuous conditions the winners will face during the Army-wide Best Ranger Competition later this year.

1st Lt. Martin Jimenez, of San Diego, was the overall winner.

"By themselves, the events are not all that hard to complete," Jimenez said. "When you combine them all in less than 72 hours, it takes a toll. My legs are destroyed."

Jimenez said he was looking forward to the competition at Fort Benning.

"It will be a great learning experience and a chance to compete against the best of the best," Jimenez said.

Participants also had to:

  • Do a land navigation exercise where they had to find as many points as possible during eight hours.
  • Complete a series of tasks called Ranger Stakes, which included setting up a Claymore mine.
  • Do a 12-mile road march with a 45- to 50-pound rucksack and while carrying weapons.
  • Reassemble a box of weapons, which was the mystery event.

A water combat survival test and a three-mile run while carrying a rifle were the final events, which ended the competition early Thursday morning.

About 200 fellow soldiers cheered the five on as they completed the three-mile run in front of the 1st Armored Division Headquarters about 7:30 a.m. in chilly conditions.

"It was a great effort over three days," said Maj. Gen. Dana J.H. Pittard, commander of the 1st Armored Division and Fort Bliss. "These five soldiers met the challenge and are the best of the best."

Next year, Pittard said, he'd like 20 soldiers to compete in the contest.

Competition results

Results from the 1st Armored Division Best Ranger Competition:

First place: 1st Lt. Martin Jimenez, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, from San Diego.

Second place: Master Sgt. Robert Usnick, Special Operations Force recruiting office, from Slater, Mo.

Third place: 2nd Lt. Joshua Labelle, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, from Tilton, N.H.

Fourth place: Capt. Patrick Mitchell, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, from New Orleans.

Fifth place: Sgt. 1st Class Thomas Gee, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, from San Antonio.


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