NEWS | May 27, 2021

Marksbury overcomes obstacles to compete with Army’s best

By Capt. Cody Stagner, Kentucky National Guard Public Affairs

As a self-proclaimed country boy, Spc. Jerry S. Marksbury III, from Prospect, Ky., is best known by others for his attack on the high standards he places on himself and others around him. 

Marksbury, from Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 149th Infantry Regiment, represented the National Guard at Fort Benning, Georgia, during the 2021 Best Ranger Competition, April 16-18, 2021.

He takes warrior training seriously. When he is not aiding fellow Mountain Warriors from C-Co. in Ravenna, Ky., he is memorizing battle drills and Army Warrior Tasks to share better what he has learned on a more daily basis. 

Marksbury is now training to become a full-time instructor at the ARNG Warrior Training Center’s Ranger Training Assessment Course (RTAC).

But this journey has not been easy for him.

He made his marks first as an infantryman before seeing the national stage of competing at Army’s Best Ranger.

“He has been a hard charger since coming to the unit and makes any Army task look easy,” said 1st Sgt. Jason Moore. “He is always motivated and dedicated to improving himself as a Soldier and leader. This gives him the unlimited potential for a great future in the military.”

Moore was so impressed by Marksbury’s performance at the unit, he selected Marksbury for RTAC and Ranger School in 2019.

The RTAC is a 17-day pre-Ranger course hosted at Fort Benning to ensure National Guard Soldiers will be able to withstand the rigors of Ranger School.

“The first time at RTAC, I failed the push-up event,” he said. “It seems I have a history of failing or just making it by.”

Humbled by the experience, Marksbury was eventually accepted into Ranger School. He continued to push himself to the limits, mentally and physically, for the grueling 61-day course. There, he learned how to engage in close combat and direct-fire battles at the next level.

He said he was never the best at any one thing, but the experience inspired him to take it further. He wanted to compete at the next Best Ranger Competition.

This became yet another challenge, but one the whole world would face. 

When the planet shut down due to COVID-19, so did Fort Benning and the 2020 Best Ranger Competition.

Once the date was set for April 16-18, 2021, a new trial and training period began.

Like Ranger School, Marksbury had to fight through a tryout to get into Best Ranger.

From beginning to end, Marksbury was disadvantaged.

According to the Best Ranger website, the average age of competitors there is 28. The 21-year-old overcame a knowledge gap and competed with seasoned, mid-career professional Rangers in their late-twenties and mid-thirties.

“I almost didn’t make it [into Best Ranger],” he said. “During tryouts in September, they only took the top eight out of the 20 Guardsmen there. I came in ninth.”

As a runner-up, patience paid off for him when one of the top eight dropped out. 

A slot opened. 

Marksbury was in. 

He traveled back to Fort Benning in January for a train-up leading to the main event. He would soon compete with the best Rangers in the entire U.S. Army.

“We spent roughly three-and-a-half months training for it,” said Marksbury. “In the beginning was mostly the physical stuff, then we went to the range more and began practicing medical tactics, hand grenades, and land navigation.”

They paired Marksbury with Idaho Army National Guard 1st Lt. Christian Briggs for the two-person, buddy-team formatted competition.

In the week before opening day, called competitor week, Marksbury and Briggs got an orientation with upcoming events and the weapons systems they would be shooting.

Best Ranger is a 60-hour competition that scores competitors after completing several major events requiring varying skill sets. There were different marksmanship events, obstacle courses, and other physically and mentally challenging, combat-related tasks.  

As an avid outdoorsman, Marksbury said he enjoyed seeing and shooting the different special weapons there.

“Their shooting ranges were the coolest. They styled them after a three-gun-shooting competition. You might run up, start a timer, grab a pistol and get one shot at a 50-meter target. With the number of rounds they gave, you couldn’t afford to miss any targets,” he said.

He said other events that provided more ammo were testing for speed more than accuracy.

Marksmanship was his and Briggs’ strong point, but there was far more to the competition than shooting, he said. The first big test for him came on day one.

“It hit me pretty hard on the first ruck,” he said. “We stepped off for an unknown distance that turned out to be about 20 miles. But, with the competition, it was like a ruck run. So, when we hit mile 17, I was like, 'This hurts!'”

Team 46, Marksbury and Briggs, did okay in the first ruck, but they excelled in all shooting events.

Each event’s score was weighted differently, with the highest points given to the most challenging events.

Having top-ten finishes in marksmanship was noteworthy, but the lower weights of these challenges did not score them high enough to finish the competition.

After two days of going non-stop, team 46 was finally cut.

“Overall, there are about 30 events, and the scorers have to make cuts at the end of each day,” he said. “So, after the ruck march, they cut it from 51 teams to 28. We were sitting in 28th after that ruck. When they cut it to 16 the next day, there just weren’t enough points to fill in the gap and stay in the competition. The cut came after Land Navigation that second day.”

Team 46 finished 28th overall.

After taking a break to pursue a lasting career as a Ranger instructor, Marksbury said he is not finished with Best Ranger. He plans to come back in two years and break the top ten.

Whether the competition is Best Warrior or Best Ranger, there is a good chance the 1st Battalion, 149th Infantry “Mountain Warriors” will be there.

“The Mountain Warriors have a significant amount of esprit de corps and have built a culture of competing at the highest level of Best Ranger and state, region, and national best warrior competitions,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Benzie Timberlake, from the 1-149th.

Marksbury and Spc. Dakota Michel, both from C-Co, 1-149th, were this year’s highest performers on the state, regional and national level. 

Michel placed second at the 2021 Region III Best Warrior Competition hosted at Fort McClellan, Alabama, May 3-7.

“The 1-149th first sergeants and commanders are some of the best the Army offers and have prepared their next Soldiers in all ranks well,” said Timberlake. “In 2021-2022, all we have to do is tag the next Soldier in!”