Ranger rivalry

1st Lt. Alastair Keys, ’17, left, and his competition partner SFC Ryan Gerber finished second in the grueling national challenge called the Best Ranger Competition. Events in the 60-hour, 60-mile competition range from distance running with push-ups and sit-ups to nighttime land navigation and marksmanship.

1st Lt. Alastair Keys, ’17, left, and his competition partner SFC Ryan Gerber finished second in the grueling national challenge called the Best Ranger Competition. Events in the 60-hour, 60-mile competition range from distance running with push-ups and sit-ups to nighttime land navigation and marksmanship.

Alum’s two-man team is No. 2 in grueling Army competition

It’s called the Best Ranger Competition and following the grueling three-day contest this spring, 1st Lt. Alastair Keys, ’17, finished among the best.

Keys, a biochemistry major, and his competition partner SFC Ryan Gerber finished second in the 36th annual Best Ranger Competition at Fort Benning, Georgia, a national U.S. Army contest.

The 60-hour, 60-mile competition has evolved over three decades. Originally created to salute the best two-man buddy team in Ranger Regiment at Fort Benning, it now determines the best two-man team from the entire Army.

Out of the 54 teams that started, only 16 finished the competition, which took place April 12-14. Events range from distance running and ruck marching to nighttime land navigation and marksmanship.

1st Lt. Alastair Keys, ’17, left, and SFC Ryan Gerber took part in the Best Ranger Competition that ranged from distance running and ruck marching to obstacle courses and marksmanship.
1st Lt. Alastair Keys, ’17, left, and SFC Ryan Gerber took part in the Best Ranger Competition that ranged from distance running and ruck marching to obstacle courses and marksmanship.

Keys and Gerber began training six days a week in January. They went to Ft. Benning in mid-February to focus on training full-time.

“We ruck marched and ran 70-80 miles per week with the ruck weight increasing every week,” explains Keys. “We also worked on our tactical and technical tasks such as obstacle courses, shooting various weapons and weapons-related skills, mortar emplacement, rope ascents, medical tasks, and forms of field-craft to name a few.”

Keys’ favorite part of the competition was the ranges, in particular Krilling Range where they did a three-gun style shoot with obstacles and WWII weapons. “The event was themed after the amphibious landing on D-Day,” he notes.

Being in a strenuous competition with no scheduled sleep, Keys says calorie deficit was one of the biggest challenges. “Competitors are intentionally not given enough food to replenish calories expended,” he explains. “I found it became increasingly hard to eat as time went on. I knew I had to eat, but it got hard to swallow.”

UWL alum 1st Lt. Alastair Keys, ’17, left, and SFC Ryan Gerber during the grueling Best Ranger Competition at Fort Benning, Georgia, a national U.S. Army contest.
UWL alum 1st Lt. Alastair Keys, ’17, left, and SFC Ryan Gerber during the grueling Best Ranger Competition at Fort Benning, Georgia, a national U.S. Army contest.

Keys took part in the competition to see how he stacked up against the Army’s best. It was important to compete with his Platoon Sergeant, SFC Gerber. Most units select the top two individuals to compete from their division, explains Keys. In their case the duo represented not only their brigade, but also their battalion, company and platoon. “Our close working relationship contributed to our success as a two-man team,” he says.

Keys drew from his experience on the UWL wrestling team along with life challenges for mental and physical toughness. “This competition was definitely a step above anything I have done physically and mentally in the past, but wrestling provided a good baseline,” he says.

Keys found his love for the military during his ROTC experience at UWL. He points to an awesome group of peers and cadre contributing to some of the best years of his life.

The Eau Claire native came to college knowing he wanted to be a part of the military. He initially wanted to become a doctor in the Army, but when involved in ROTC, he quickly found himself gravitating toward becoming an Infantry Officer. Keys is currently a Platoon Leader in 3rdPlatoon, Attack Company, 1-503rdIN (Airborne), 173rdIBCT (Airborne) in Vicenza, Italy.

Keys says he was fortunate to have great peers and cadre in ROTC. Together they achieved many goals, including creating the Battalion’s annual Northern Warfare Challenge.

“In my last two years of college, ROTC was my experience,” says Keys. “I shifted my focus toward becoming the best officer I could be. I made lasting friendships through ROTC and we still keep in touch.”

Take a look at the competition