By Nicole Walby
A McCutchenville native is competing this weekend in the Best Ranger Competition, which begins today in Fort Benning, Ga.
Staff Sgt. Chad Acton, 27, is competing with Staff Sgt. Raymond Santiago. They are among 51 teams composed of the best of the best from U.S. Army Rangers, Special Forces and Delta.
The competition, in its 29th year, is two days and three nights of non-stop activities, including a run of an unknown distance, marksmanship skills tests, weapons assembly, rope climbing and rappelling, a night land navigation, obstacle course, a mile buddy run and more.
"I've seen the competition the past two years and was really impressed with the atmosphere and the challenge of the guys competing. I told myself that next year I was going to do it," Acton said.
Acton has been in the Army since 2002. He was a senior at Mohawk High School when the terrorist attacks occurred Sept. 11, 2001, motivating him to join, said Chad's father, Steve.
Steve is the technology coordinator for Hopewell-Loudon Local School District and was in the military for close to 20 years. Along with Chad's mother, Connie, and sister, Lisa, he is among a strong military family.
"My dad was in the Army, and it instilled in me a kind of second nature," said Chad Acton. "As a kid, I got to go to a bunch of different places people wouldn't normally go and see all the equipment. It was all very interesting."
He has served three tours in Iraq, working as an infantry scout targeting terrorist groups to help identify terrorists. He also conducted improvised explosive device training.
Acton has been stationed in San Antonio, Texas, Fort Lewis, Wash., Fort Campbell, Ky., and now Fort Benning, where he is a ranger instructor for Fourth Ranger Brigade School.
"All through high school, Chad had been very athletic," said Steve. "He has been involved with track, soccer, football and ice hockey."
Acton said he has been training since December and has been on recovery for the past two weeks. He had been running about 100 miles each week Monday through Friday. Three days a week, he and his partner would do an extensive road march and a half-hour in the gym doing push-ups, pull-ups and various abdominal work-outs. The other two days he has been doing recovery workouts, including swimming, climbing the rock wall and 5- to 6-mile runs.
"I am very nervous," said Acton. "I have not been able to sleep. I've been going over everything in my head. I try to catch up on sleep during the weekends."
The competition will total 101 miles in three days. Each activity will be scored and weighted differently based on the amount of time taken to finish an activity or move on to the next activity, said Acton.
Points will be deducted if teams hit a friendly target, said Acton, and the team with the most points wins.
This year, Nike and BodyBuilder.com are sponsoring the competition among other military sponsors. The winners will get equipment worth $3,000 to use while in the military and in the civilian world. They also will receive engraved 45mm pistols.
"I am just hoping to get first place. It is going to be fun but horrible," said Acton.
"This is just amazing what he is doing," said Steve. "I would have never thought of or tried this."
Acton is up for promotion by October to become a sergeant first class. After the competition, he is returning to Fort Campbell, Ky., where he will be deployed to Afghanistan in September.
Acton has a wife, Ashley, and a 1-year-old daughter, Madelyn.