These Two Soldiers Are Officially The Toughest Rangers In The Entire US Military

Best RangerSgt. First Class Thomas Payne (left) and Master Sgt. Kevin Foutz (right)

Photo: Army Media Player

Every year the most hard-core and skilled soldiers from across the U.S. Army — and even hopeful troops from other branches — fight to be named the military’s Best Ranger.

It was that time of year last weekend.

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The Best Ranger Competition has become so huge since 1982 that units even do their own preliminary qualification rounds before the big showdown. 

Two-man teams battling it out at Fort Benning last weekend were kept in the dark about the order and distances of each event — so there was no way to develop a strategy.

They just had to tackle everything with all they had.

“It’s gonna be brutal. It’s gonna be the toughest thing,” said competitor Master Sgt. Kevin Foutz.

And it lasted 60 hours.

From 6AM last Friday, the competing troops ran, marched, crawled, climbed, and moved 40 to 45 miles. On the first day alone.

With very little rest between the back-to-back events, 51 teams from all over the U.S. military — from Army Ranger units, to Special Operations, Marines, and the National Guard — all tried to conquer three days of physically and mentally-demanding tests. Seventeen teams dropped out after Day 1.

“Your entire body is sore and in pain. You just push through it knowing you have another two days of competition to go through. Just continuing on — a solid performance the entire time,” said Foutz, who won the Best Ranger title with his teammate Sgt. First Class Thomas Payne. Both are Special Operations soldiers.

Best RangerA gritty event from the competition last year

Photo: Best Ranger Competition

The Army-devised challenges included “the mother of all obstacle courses” known as the Darby Queen, which competitors took on after a 15-mile foot march.Other events included a grenade assault course; land navigation in the dark of the night; rifle shooting with moving targets; “water confidence” and a helicopter jump; plus a whole load of running.

Winners Foutz and Payne say it was teamwork that got them through the tough “buddy” competition.

“Where my weaknesses are, he had strengths. And vice versa. We knew we were going to have to drag each other along,” explained Foutz.

Payne added, “With the mortars, we asked a couple friends for their advice…We didn’t know what we were doing exactly with the system, so we went to them for their expertise.”

While troops competed against each other, there was a “strong brotherhood.”

“All these guys, I’d definitely like to be out there with them — serve with them in the same unit,” said Foutz after his team scored the winning title.

“We just train really hard to be the best at everything.” And it takes an incredible amount of energy and grit to get there.

So what does a Best Ranger look for after roughing out an intense three days? 

“Ice cream and beer,” said Payne. 

This famous sign at Camp Roberts says it all

After 15 miles of marching, the Army's hardest 26-obstacle course had teams low-crawling under barbed wire

And over a cargo net

Wearing full gear, their strength and endurance was tested over uneven terrain

Using helicopter insertion skills, teams jumped from a UH60 Blackhawk into Victory Pond and swam to shore hauling their weapons and supplies

They had to water-proof their gear using a poncho raft, but everything else was clearly water-logged and very heavy

The exhausting chopper training was just one of two water events

First aid challenges were laid down in the Ranger First Responder medical challenge

And the Tri-Tower Challenge seemed like nothing an elite two-man team can't do

The final event at Freedom Hall was a 3-mile buddy run

Competitors all crossed the finish line with their rifles held high

Sgt. First Class Thomas Payne and teammate Master Sgt. Kevin Foutz came out on top as this year's Best Rangers

Living up to to the standard 'Not for the weak or fainthearted'

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