best-ranger-national-guard

The 2016 ‘Best Rangers’ Came From the National Guard

FORT BENNING, GA – “I feel like it’s definitely his year,” said Megan Truett, sister of Capt. Robert Killian on Team 47, on April 15. She had been to the competition in previous years, unable to make it last year, but she knew she had to attend this year to see him win.

Truett was right; it was her brother’s year to win the Lt. Gen. David E. Grange Jr. Best Ranger Competition. He took first place with his teammate, Staff Sgt. Erich Friedlein. The team also won the Leandri Award – an award presented to the team with the best time on the night orienteering course in honor of Richard A. Leandri, who established the Chairborne Rangers and a major figure in organizing the first Best Ranger Competition.

The team was the first National Guard team to win in the 33 years of the Best Ranger Competition.

The second place team was Team 33 from the Airborne and Ranger Training Brigade, 1st Sgt. David Floutier and Staff Sgt. Joshua Rolfes, and third place was Team 31 from the Maneuver Center of Excellence, Capt. Michael Blanchard and Capt. Brian Slamkowski.

Capt. Mark Gaudet and 1st Lt. Timothy Nelson, Team 1 with the 1st Infantry Division, won the Captain Russell B. Rippetoe Trophy, sponsored by the Armed Forces Institute. This award is presented to the team who, like Rippetoe, kept going when all others fall by the wayside, as many do during road marches.

Sgt. Michael Banta and Sgt. Steven Strickland, Team 39 with the 75th Ranger Regiment, won the Moore-Van Aalst Marksmanship Award. This award was given in honor of 1st Sgt. Harvey L. Moore and Master Sgt. Jared N. Van Aalst.

The Best Ranger Competition awards ceremony took place April 18 in Marshall Auditorium in McGinnis-Wickam Hall. Acting Secretary of the Army Patrick Murphy served as the guest speaker.

Murphy said the Soldiers went through a three-day, 60-hour test of strength and teamwork, and they are the epitome of what a Soldier should be.

“We finish the fights because we have great Americans, like these men up here, these Rangers, who have answered the call,” he said.

Murphy said there are more than 330 million Americans, and the country has asked for just 1 percent of them to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan. He said to think about the 1 percent who are serving, and what the Rangers represent.

“You are the top 1 percent of the 1 percent,” he said. “So, we could not be more proud of what you accomplished.

“We have become more and more a total, joint force … a total force,” he added, talking about National Guard, reservists and active-duty Soldiers becoming one team.

After Murphy spoke, the 23 finishing teams were announced. The first-place team took the stage where they received their Colt .45-caliber revolvers and pointed them in the air, representing their well-deserved accomplishment.

Killian and Friedlein both said they felt proud in representing the National Guard.

“It feels great to represent the National Guard and get a win for the Guard,” Friedlein said. “It feels good to show … we can be on the same level as active duty units.”

“I think it says a lot about the Guard in general and our military and how we’re very equal (fighting forces),” Killian said.

Friedlein said the Warrior Training Center at Camp Butler has been very supportive and brought the competitors down for a 21/2-month train-up and gave them access to a lot of obstacles and things needed for practice.

Killian said there has never been a competition this close in the history of the Best Ranger Competition. The team had an emotional finish. Killian said he felt his knees almost get weak and when they crossed the finish line, he fell to the ground in tears.

He knew he had finally won.

“As soon as I hit that last turn … I was like already in tears,” Killian said. “It was really surreal … you play that moment up in your head like so many times hoping that it’ll happen.”

Friedlein said Killian wouldn’t let him look back to see where the other competitors were during the final buddy run.

“It still hasn’t totally sunk in yet,” Friedlein said. “It felt great … we put in the work and we finally got it … I was proud of myself for pushing as hard as I could.”

Killian has competed in the competition five times, with two second place wins, and Friedlein has competed three times. Killian was also the Spartan Race world champion in October 2015, Truett said.

Both teammates said it’s possible they will compete again.

Killian said having a lot of Family and friends there to support him gave him an extra push during each event – especially with his son, Christopher, yelling “Go daddy!”

“It makes it worthwhile,” he said. “I’m very appreciative that they’re out there to support us.”

Killian’s wife, Maxine, said she was proud of her husband’s accomplishment.

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