Enveloped in Georgias muggy weather, throughout three days of hardening challenges, two men battled the elements and their emotions to outlast the majority of fellow competitors and represent the 7th Infantry Division and JBLM at the 30th annual Best Ranger Competition, April 12-15.
Captain Aaron Chonko and Sgt. 1st Class David Floutier, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, with the assistance of their coach, Sgt. 1st Class Kristopher Barnette, 2-3 Inf., took on the test of skill, intellect and endurance at Fort Benning, Ga. Chonko and Floutier, Team Four, were the only team to represent JBLM in the BRC this year. They finished 17th out of 49 teams.
It was a long, physically and mentally challenging first day, Chonko said. The combination made it a good competition, along with an (experienced) field of competitors.
It seemed like a majority of the teams had someone that had competed before, Barnette said.
Chonko competed in two previous BRCs, while Barnette coached two teams in the past.
It was a little more physical, as in the length of movement and the weight we carried (with) the additional items to our normal ruck weight, Chonko said, in comparison to his prior experiences.
Half the teams were eliminated by the end of the first day, and those that continued didnt catch a wink for the first 48 hours of the competition.
Team Four needed to pull together and, at times, hold each other up mentally to move on with the top 24 teams.
Everything was difficult the first 24 hours, as far as (being) the most physically challenging, Floutier said.
To cap off an already trying first day, the team endured a nightlong road march to guarantee advancement in the competition.
They were really tested by the first nights ruck movement, said Lt. Col. Jarett Broemmel, 2-3 Inf. battalion commander. Their mental toughness and physical preparation helped them overcome the challenge.
Floutier said the event was more struggle than they had expected in their preparation. The requirement to pick up and carry extra gear throughout the march exemplified his point.
This cant be happening, Floutier reflected on the march. Weve got to put this stuff down soon. They cant make us keep carrying it.
You kinda just look down and keep walking, Chonko said. As long as you keep moving, youre continuing to push toward the finish line.
Barnette and family members were present throughout most of the competition to motivate and give advice on upcoming obstacles.
They needed some encouragement, Barnette said. Id try to go ahead and do some kind of recon of what was in front of them and let them know what was coming.
When you started hating it, theyd be there cheering you on and we got some good advice as we were going along, Floutier said.
After surviving day one, an airborne jump, water confidence courses, lengthy obstacle courses and live-fire marksmanship ranges were just a sample of the many trials Team Four faced.
Floutier said this was the most enjoyable time in the competition, as teams rallied to motivate one another and supporters were more visible and influential on team inspiration.
I felt like a kid at a baseball game, looking around, Floutier said. Wheres my wife? Wheres my mom? Wheres coach?
Throughout the competition, there were challenges that created separation between teams. Doing every required task properly and in optimal time was the difference between first and 24th place.
In the heat of the moment, there are certain decisions you make, Floutier said. It completely sets you apart from everyone else.
The last event of the competition was the buddy run a two-mile team run in boots, carrying rifles.
It was awesome, Floutier beamed about crossing the last finish line. It was one of the best feelings Ive had in a while.
Its like a self accomplishment, Chonko exclaimed. Oh! Finally! At last, Im through!
Its like runners high, but exponential, he said.
Floutier and Barnette envisioned competing again, even minutes after completing the last event.
Im probably going to do it next year, Barnette said. Im about 90 percent sure.
I definitely want to do it again, Floutier stated. Its just whether or not its next year."
After finishing his third BRC, Chonko has other plans.
This was my third one ... Im moving on, Im out of the infantry role. Before work and after work, it just takes away a lot of family time, he said.
More was on the shoulders of Team Four than finishing first. They were the sole team from JBLM and the first team to represent the newly-reactivated 7th Inf. Div.
Id say our goal before we went there was top 10, Chonko said. But, getting there and seeing the (competitors), and as the competition went on, we adjusted our expectations. Team Four received support from Family, friends and their unit going to the BRC and coming back. They expressed gratitude to their supporters and God.
It was overwhelming, Chonko said. We were thoroughly impressed with the amount of support from the battalion, brigade and division.
You saw what these guys can do, Barnette said, in reference to the great help Team Four received from 7th Inf. Div. Support those guys that want to do something like this.
By competing in Georgia, Chonko and Floutier exemplified the caliber of Soldier to come from 7th Inf. Div. and brought attention to the importance of competitions like the BRC for all Soldiers on JBLM.
I am proud and impressed by Capt. Chonko and Sgt. 1st Class Floutier, Broemmel said. They represented the 7th Inf. Div. with distinction.