Sgt. 1st Class Jeremy Lemma knew he would endure pain, and he knew he would be exhausted, hungry and on the verge of quitting as he competed to be the Army’s Best Ranger.
“It almost feels good because you don’t feel it anywhere else in life,” he said when asked why he would endure the Best Ranger Competition.
Now in its 31st year, the annual event pits two-man teams of Army Rangers against each other in three days of grueling events that test Ranger skills.
Lemma and two other soldiers from 2nd Squadron, 38th Cavalry Regiment, 504th Battlefield Surveillance Brigade, competed in the three-day event held at Fort Benning, Ga. Lemma and his teammate, 1st Lt. Jesse Nangauta, of Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., placed 24th. Staff Sgt. Adam Davila and 1st Lt. Greg Scheffler finished 14th.
Of the 50 teams that competed from across the Army, only half finished.
“Just finishing was an accomplishment in and of itself,” Scheffler said.
Most teams dropped out during the first day of the competition, when they traversed about 40 miles on foot over various terrain.
“It was probably the worst first day in the history of Best Ranger,” said Lemma, who competed last year.
Scheffler and Davila finished the night road march in second place.
“We did a lot of endurance training,” said Scheffler, who was also competing for the second year. Training included rucking the Austin Marathon. “We were prepared. ... We didn’t hold back at all.”
The teams spent about five months preparing for the competition — pushing themselves to their physical limits and adhering to a strict nutrition plan to optimize performance.
Unit support was instrumental in their training, the soldiers said.
“That’s why it was so disappointing we didn’t place higher, because we dedicated so much time,” Lemma said.
A fourth Fort Hood soldier trained with them, but was unable to compete with Lemma. Luckily he found a new teammate in Nangauta.
The week before the competition the soldiers loaded on carbohydrates to ensure their bodies would have fuel to keep going. Competitors only had five MREs to last the entire three days. In the past, seven meals were issued.
“You would see people hobble to the next event,” Davila said. Once it began, they would spring to life and compete at the top of their game.
“I know it sounds cheesy, but it’s heart. ... You have to forget about the pain of the event,” he said.
The second night, during land navigation, Scheffler fell face-first into swampy water. In his words, he was worthless. Davila helped him up, told him to focus on the ground and said, “I got this.”
“For every team to be successful, when one’s down, the other has to be up,” Scheffler said.
Davila said he was feeling pretty good that night and knew he needed to push his teammate forward.
“You have to motivate in a way that doesn’t break the spirit,” he said.
Even though the Best Ranger competition just ended April 13, each soldier is already thinking about improving training for next year.
“We all went there to win,” Scheffler said.