Fort Hood’s battlefield surveillance brigade left its mark on the Best Ranger Competition.
First Lt. Steven Hail and Staff Sgt. Jeremy Lemma, of Charlie Company, 2nd “Phantom Recon” Squadron, 38th Cavalry Regiment, 504th Battlefield Surveillance Brigade, were the first team to compete from a long-range reconnaissance unit and placed 14th of 50 in the grueling three-day competition held April 12-14 at Fort Benning, Ga.
“I was disappointed we couldn’t take first for (long-range reconnaissance) and III Corps in general,” Lemma said. “I’m glad we finished and people can see 504th has quality soldiers that go above and beyond. I want to do it again and I want to win for sure.”
The events began with soldiers on their feet for about 38 miles on day one, which led directly into the next events without rest. The next two days included a 65-foot tower where soldiers conducted a Prusik climb, then repelled down, canoeing and pancho-raft swim, weapons assembly, knot tying, first-aid, two five-mile buddy runs and a jump from a Black Hawk.
“While we were in it, we said we’d never do it again,” Lemma said. “Immediately afterward, we were like, ‘Yeah, let’s do it again.’”
“The glory of winning the Best Ranger Competition is worth it,” Hail said.
It was both soldiers’ first time taking part in the competition, and their team was one of four in the top 15 not affiliated with special operations or a Ranger unit. The winning team came from the Ranger Training Brigade. Only 24 teams finished all three days of competition, with half cut during the first day’s ruck march.
“Simply an amazing performance by these two men,” said Lt. Col. John Cogbill, squadron commander. “We could not be prouder of our Best Ranger team.”
The Phantom Recon team fully devoted themselves to the competition in January and spent the two months leading up to it at Fort Benning.
“Physically, we were prepared for the competition,” Lemma said. He credits the strong physical training program Hail created, which included rucking the Austin Marathon and training at Shooter Performance Institute in Austin. The Air Assault School staff also helped coordinate training on post.
To ensure their bodies could endure so much physical exertion, the two stuck to a nutrition program created by Fort Hood’s Army Wellness Center. The team was able to conduct metabolic testing and at their max, were consuming about 6,000 calories a day to maintain their physical training routine.
“It was complete dedication and sacrifice. I haven’t had a slice of pizza in forever,” Lemma said. “There was never time to go out with friends.”
Occasionally, they would go to a movie, or remind themselves to take some downtime.
“Sometimes we lost sight of balance,” Hail said.
At Benning, they focused on their Ranger skills.
“The critical thing with skills is frequency,” Hail said. “We trained every single day. You have to do that so you have that muscle memory and can do it with no sleep.”
Now that the guys have been through the competition, they said they felt like they were physically and mentally prepared going into the competition. Where they would change things, would be in the transitions.
When switching from a road march to land navigation, Hail said they stopped and deliberately plotted points. Looking back, he would have kept moving forward.
“If I did do it again I feel like I would definitely improve if not win now that I have the experience of how the competition is done,” Lemma said. “It’s not that the special ops guys are that much better, they had the knowledge.”
The two would like to compete again together next year, but Hail will be leaving Fort Hood soon for the Marine Corps’ Expeditionary Warfare School at Quantico, Va.
“I don’t see myself training up with anyone else,” Hail said. “We had five months to build a team. Next time we would be adding on.”