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Fort Drum soldiers prepare for Army’s Best Ranger competition

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About a week before the start of the Army’s Best Ranger competition, a few soldiers from Fort Drum are readying themselves for a litany of grueling physical and mental challenges.

The competition, running from April 12 to 15 at Fort Benning, Ga., puts teams of two soldiers through a series of tests in a compact 60-hour period.

Entrants do not learn what challenges they will face until the event begins, creating issues even for those who have already competed in the event.

“There’s no way to fully prepare for this as a whole,” said Capt. Ian Kent, a participant from G Company, 210th Brigade Support Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team. “It’s not just a physical competition. It’s a mental competition.”

Representing the 10th Mountain Division are the teams of Capt. Kent and 1st Lt. Oleg Sheynfeld and Capt. Matthew Stapay and 1st Lt. Ian Allen. A third pair is also on standby in case of injury.

Sgt. 1st Class Ken Worthy, coach of the two teams and competitor in 2010, said recruiting for the teams started in November.

The 16 interested soldiers were whittled down to the three pairs through a series of challenges similar to what they would face in the competition.

“You have to mentally prepare them before they even try out,” Sgt. Worthy said. “Once they make the team you have to prepare them for even more.”

Sgt. Worthy said one of the larger challenges soldiers face is in the first day, when competitors travel as far as 35 to 50 miles on foot.

“You never know what it’s going to be,” he said.

The competition has a completion rate of about 60 percent. In 2012, only 34 of the 50 teams finished, while in 2011, 31 of 50 teams completed the event.

Even though he saw his experience as a plus, Capt. Kent said competing last year left him nervous about how difficult the course can be.

“To be quite honest, ignorance is bliss, at least for the mental preparation for this,” he said.

First-timer Capt. Stapay said he and Lt. Allen were readying themselves by watching competition videos and listening to past entrants.

“We try to get our hands on everything, get as much as we can,” he said.

Capt. Stapay said he and Lt. Allen have served with each other in the 3rd Squadron, 71st Cavalry, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, since 2010, including a deployment to Afghanistan.

He said the pair’s focus has been getting in shape, including more weightlifting and running while carrying large sacks.

Capts. Kent and Stapay said they liked the opportunity to meet and work with soldiers from other units across the world during the buildup to the competition.

“We’re working with the best leaders, and the best soldiers in the Army, and it really is an elite community to be a part of,” Capt. Stapay said.

No one in the division has ever won the competition. In 2000, the team of Capt. Duane M. Patin and 2nd Lt. Scott D. Wence came in fourth place, one of the division’s best finishes.

The last three winning teams have originated from U.S. Special Operations Command.

The event has been held annually since 1982 except for cancellations in 1991 and 2003.

All entrants must be graduates of the U.S. Army Ranger School and Airborne-qualified.

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