Missouri Guardsman battles it out in grueling Best Ranger Competition

Lt. Travis Cornwall and Sgt. 1st Class Conrad Kaluzny. (Submitted Photo)

By Jennifer Archdekin

FORT BENNING, Ga. - Running 100 miles in 60 hours and maneuvering some of the most physically and mentally grueling objectives with minimal food and a few hours of sleep -- sound like fun?

For one Missouri National Guardsman it was the most exciting thing he has ever done.

Lt. Travis Cornwall, of Seymour, recently competed in the 29th Annual David E. Grange Jr. Best Ranger Competition at Fort Benning, Ga. Not only did he and his teammate, Sgt. 1st Class Conrad Kaluzny, cross the finish line, they placed seventh out of 50 two-man teams.

To earn a spot just to compete is an honor in itself. Soldiers must have already completed the Army Ranger Course. Only about one percent of the U.S. Army are Rangers. This competition pits the best of the best against each other to see who comes out on top of this already elite group.

"All everybody wants to do is win," said Cornwall. "You can't ask for a better competition. Everybody is as good, if not better, than you are."

The three-day challenge focused on the basic fundamentals of shoot, move and communicate. These Rangers were pushed to their absolute limits. The non-stop competition tested Soldiers in events such as a 16-mile road march carrying a 65 pound backpack, navigating 2,000 meters of back-to-back obstacles, firing 60 mm mortars, repelling 70-foot towers, jumping out of Blackhawk helicopters into water and swimming to shore, as well as being tested on Ranger history and technical knowledge.

"The first day was the hardest," said Cornwall. "We were pushed to our limits -- pushed to the mental and physical edge."

Kaluzny, a drill sergeant with the 198th Infantry Brigade at Fort Benning, competed last year placing 10th. As a team, the two Soldiers used Kaluzny's experience to train.

"He was a great help with pre-planning," said Cornwall. "We worked to coordinate with each other and synchronize our movements. There's a lot to go into it."

Teams only had a small window of time to sleep each day. From about 3:30-5 a.m. they were able to take a quick snooze before cleaning up and heading back out to the contest.

They were each provided with seven MREs, meals-ready-to-eat, for the duration of the competition. No other supplements or quick-energy snacks were allowed. Cornwall said much strategy was involved in deciding when to eat.

"We planned ahead of time when we would need more carbs or more sugar and adjusted what we ate and when," said Cornwall. "You eat while you're moving. Your buddy will help you and grab something out of your sustainment pouch to keep you going."

Having a battle buddy throughout the competition is a great motivator according to Cornwall. Teammates encourage each other when they may be at the brink of utter exhaustion.

"If you're at the point where you're hurting and cramping and can't go on, your battle buddy pushes you," said Cornwall. "You tell your partner to push through. Even if I have to carry you, you're going to make it.'"

The events are not just designed to measure a person's mental resiliency and physical fitness, but Cornwall said there is a practical application, as well.

One scenerio challenged the Soldiers to rescue a helicopter pilot who had been shot down. While under fire, teams had to assess the severity of the situation and the pilot's injuries, which was a 200-pound dummy. They had to safely move the pilot, along with various sensitive items, over six walls and through various obstacles, then prepare the pilot to be hoisted for an aerial medical evacuation.

"I think it gives me the drive to stay fresh on skill levels and develop my subordinates and my peers on the skills I've learned," said Cornwall. "I want to give them the fortitude to push on. I was pushed to strive for more by my leadership and I want to do the same for others."

Cornwall serves with the 1-138th Infantry Regiment out of Kansas City and is on temporary orders working with the 198th Infantry Brigade at Fort Benning as a company commander through August. He enlisted in the Missouri National Guard in 2006 and commissioned as an officer in 2009.

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As Lt. Travis Cornwall prepares to make his way out of a UH60A Blackhawk, Sgt. 1st Class Conrad Kaluzny heads for the water to swim to shore while competing in the 29th Annual David E. Grange Jr. Best Ranger Competition at Fort Benning, Ga. This two-man team placed seventh in the grueling three-day competition that pits the best of the best Army Rangers against each other. (Submitted Photo)


Carrying M4 carbines, Lt. Travis Cornwall (left) and Sgt. 1st Class Conrad Kaluzny (right) make their way through a buddy run on the last day of the 29th Annual David E. Grange Jr. Best Ranger Competition at Fort Benning, Ga. This two-man team placed seventh in the grueling three-day competition that pits the best of the best Army Rangers against each other. (Submitted Photo)

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