An Adventure in Goodness: Best Ranger 2013

An Adventure in Goodness: Best Ranger 2013 April 21, 2013


During the week in which two brothers gathered together the tools of destruction that would kill, maim and terrorize Boston, soldiers from around the nation gathered up their guns and ruck sacks and headed to Fort Benning, Georgia, to take part in a 60-hour marathon designed to showcase — or breakdown – their physical stamina, mental toughness, team’s tenacity, and character’s mettle.

The 30th annual Best Ranger Competition 2013 got underway Friday April 12 as participants for the Boston Marathon fueled themselves with carbs in anticipation of Monday’s run. 

I had promised SFC Timothy Briggs in December that I would come watch him compete for Best Ranger of the Year.

To be honest, I barely knew SFC Briggs. Our encounters had been sporadic, seemingly random, although if you have been reading my writings for any length of time, you know I don’t believe in happenstance meetings. My life’s ambition is live in a manner that welcomes people to join me in sacred encounters and intimate conversations.

SFC Timothy Briggs and SFC Raymond Santiago on the second day of Best Ranger Competition events.

SFC Briggs and I met at a Starbucks in my hometown of Columbus, Georgia. He was sitting in a corner, dressed in crisp camo uniform. I thought about speaking to him when I took a seat near him but decided against it. I figured the men in uniform from Fort Benning can barely get a moment of privacy when they are out and about in my hometown. Especially given this was a couple of years ago, when public patriotism was at fever pitch. But Briggs spoke to me, said he hoped his telephone didn’t interrupt my wi-fi, and that little bit of thoughtfulness ignited one of those engaging conversations that I welcome.

Because I travel a great deal and meet so many people and because I am old as a mature oak, I don’t recall all the specifics of that conversation. But I found out that he was from Montana, that he was a pretty good runner, that he’d just gotten to Fort Benning where he was going to be a Ranger instructor, and that his momma had died, and that he’d spent the last decade of his life deploying to war. Before we parted, I gave him the only copy I had with me of After the Flag has been Folded.  Anybody who has read that book knows that it tells you all you need to know, and then some, about me, about growing up military in Columbus, and about the aftermath of war. As I backed my car out of the parking lot and entered Manchester Expressway, I vividly recall thinking: What a pleasant, sincere young man. 

I knew in that moment that I’d just had an encounter with somebody different. Somebody who embodied goodness.

I told SFC Briggs that I would stay in touch. I’d asked for his email address so I could do just that. I thought about him from time to time, prayed for him, but I never did write that email to him. Then, last July, right before Mama fell ill, I returned to Columbus to attend a reunion with Rose Hill’s youth group, Prophecy. On Monday, following the reunion, I arranged several interviews for a book project. We met at a coffee shop in downtown Columbus. I was there for several hours that morning but had to leave by 2 p.m. to catch my flight out of Atlanta. On my way out the door, a young man dressed in civilian clothes called out to me. I didn’t recognize him, but I approached him anyway. He introduced himself as the fellow I’d met a year or so earlier at Starbucks. And once again we had one of those brief but engaging conversations, and this time as I parted, God stopped me at the door. Literally. My hand was on the door. I turned and went back to SFC Briggs and we talked some more, then I left, but only because I really had a flight to catch.

This time, however, we exchanged phone numbers and we stayed in touch. Brief text messages every now and again. Words of encouragement. Prayer requests. Photos of the mountains. In December when I returned to my hometown to celebrate the birthday of Miz Lillian of Pine Mountain, SFC Briggs and I met for dinner. That’s  when he told me he’d been selected to compete in the Best Ranger Competition, and I told him if he did I would try and make it.

Because I didn’t know the dates of the competition, I didn’t know then that in order to make it, I would have to cancel an already previously arranged book event at the Cannon Beach Library. Nor did I know then that the competition’s award ceremony would take place the very same week that I would be overseeing our city’s One Book One Community read. And I had no idea, none at all, that SFC Timothy Briggs and his teammate SFC Raymond Santiago would actually win the competition!!!

After sixty-hours of grueling physical and mental challenges. SFC Santiago and SFC Briggs are named Best Rangers 2013

Now if you want to see some really great photos of the event, hop on over to the USA Today’s report of it. Otherwise, here’s the ones I snapped with my cell phone. 


While the news has been dominated by Brother of Destruction in Boston, I was able to spend time with two of our nation’s finest men and soldiers — SFC R. Santiago and SFC T. Briggs


Sunday morning’s event included navigating the high wire over a pond, while it was raining.


Touching the Ranger sign and then dropping into the pond.


But first, they had to shimmy up a ladder and walk this beam across the water. This after two nights of little to no sleep, MREs to eat, long hikes they they mostly ran, and many other activities.


They had to rescue bodies, run through villages, shoot their way through villages, toss hand-grenades at targets, hit the bulls-eye with hatchets, and find their way through the pitch black dark.


They had to do all that while carrying a ruck sack that weighed a ton. Okay, not a ton but more than a 3-year-old.

They shimmied out of helicopters and ran water across a muddy field.

They did all that and so much more against the ticking of a clock, beating out fifty other teams from all across the world to claim Best Ranger of 2013 title. A title bestowed upon them by Gen. Colin L. Powell


Himself a graduate of the Ranger course.

“It was the Ranger course that was the greatest challenge of my life at that time of my life,” Powell said.

Yes. There will always be those few who plot our destruction. Sometimes, as was the case in Boston, they will succeed. But for all the evil they inflict, there are thousands, millions more, plotting, training and carrying out goodness.

Don’t you just love it when God plans an encounter that turns into an adventure you never ever, ever imagined?

What adventures in goodness have you been on lately?



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  • Steve T

    What adventures of goodness? Trying to bring about a bit of God’s Kingdom here in NC and maybe a few other places in the world and then every now and again journeying to some strange, wondrous, and paradoxical place like Ft Benning GA with brothers whom I know but have yet to meet, delivered by a home-state sister who always seemingly has the ears to hear and heart to speak. Of goodness. Of life. Of the real stuff. Adventures? Yeah, adventures indeed.

    • Thanks, Steve. Wish you could have been there. What a surprise it was for me. I told SFC Briggs I never expected him to win! Shame on me. I love the way God nudges along these encounters and crafts the most delightful adventure from them. Hope to see you this coming fall when the new book is out. I’ve warned SFC Briggs he might find himself in a book one day…

      • Steve T

        Yes. Know he and SFC Santiago were uplifted by your presence. And I suspect that as a ranger, there are probably worse places where one could end up than a Spears Zacharias book. If you are in the ‘hood, coffee is always on.

  • AFRoger

    What fine young men, a credit to our nation and all who serve. May they always be so.
    Avdenture of goodness? Well, some may not see it so; but it came during the prayer time at Operation Nightwatch worship on Sunday. We, of course, had the people of Boston, the runners and families, the community of West, Texas on our list. Our soldiers and their families. Then, someone led by the Spirit of God piped up and said we should pray for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and his family. We did.
    After catching our spiritual breath over the shock of that, the still, small voice of grace finally leads us to ask, “Why would we not?” Indeed. A few seconds later, someone else asked that we pray for the President and his family and advisors. Indeed, why would we not? And just a thought… with the approval of Congress at an all time low, why would we not be praying for them? Instead of complaining.
    It was Mark Twain who perhaps gave the advice on prayer that to me ranks only a short step below the Lord’s Prayer itself. It’s actually a chapter title from Huckleberry Finn: You Can’t Pray a Lie. Praying for wounded, grieving people comes naturally. Praying for those who cause such things is hard. Because it can’t be a lie. But the gospel we had just shared from John 10 is about the voice of the Shepherd who calls together a disparate bunch of sheep who would otherwise never hang together. Whose voice do we hear? Whose voice did the Tsarnaev brothers hear? What voice could they no longer hear? Who are our shepherds?
    Good prayer doesn’t come easily. It comes hard. I’m thankful for the homeless voice who led us to that hard spot of necessary prayer. An adventure of goodness, you might say. No lie.

    • Steve T

      Yeah. That’s right Brother. No lie. Faith always takes us to that intersection of the profane and divine … that place where Jesus hangs between heaven and hell … and says “Right here. This is the place where you dwell.” Where seemingly there is no hope. Where seemingly goodness is dead. Where seemingly there is nothing left but heart break and tears. Where seemingly, if prayers can be offered at all, they are only offered because if they are not, then what? But then … BUT THEN … resurrection. No lie.

  • Diane

    WOW, that is so cool! You lead such an interesting life…..Oh, the places you go….Thank God for people like these two young men who serve our country.

  • Brice Morton

    Once upon a time I was in a platoon with SFC (then SSG) Briggs. In fact, I roomed with him in Mosul. I still have a small backpack he gave me that has his name sharpied on to it, and when my friends see it they say “Who is Briggs?” And I tell them “Only one of the greatest men I’ve ever known!”

    As a leader he brings out the absolute best in the soldiers around him. I’ll always be proud to have served with him. I’m not surprised at all that he won Best Ranger, but I’m very happy to see that he did.