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Ex-Batavia soldier proves he's among 'best of the elite' He and a teammate finished in the top 10 in 60-hour event that tests skill, endurance

By the time Sgt. Jeffrey Decker, 26, could finally take a rest, he had completed a six-hour road march with a 60-pound backpack, finished a grueling trek through the woods and navigated his way through an obstacle course at night -- all in one weekend.

The former Batavia resident was competing in the U.S. Army's Best Ranger Competition, a 60-hour event held last weekend at Fort Benning, Ga. The competition pits two-person teams from around the country against each other as they complete 16 exercises designed to test their training, endurance and intellect.

When the results came in, Decker said it was all worth it. Decker and his teammate Shayne Cherry placed seventh. Neither of them had competed before.

"I just wanted to do my best," he said. "After doing it, I realize the competition is a lot more mental . . . sure, you have the skills, but when you're basically exhausted, your mind is telling you to stop."

The event is intended to be one of the most challenging in the world -- only 21 of the 39 teams that participated finished this year. Events are intentionally scheduled back-to-back, leaving little time for rest or meals.

One of the biggest challenges for Decker was the road march, which was held after a full day of activities that began at 6 a.m. Friday. He called it an "eliminator," because so many of the teams are unable to finish it.

Placing in the top 10 is a major honor, said Bill Bullen, first vice president of the 75th Ranger Regiment Association.

"The ones who finish in the top of the competition are just extraordinary," he said. "They are the best of the elite."

Decker joined the Army in 2004 and is currently a special operations ranger. He has served two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. He attended Elba High School and Fredonia State College and currently lives in Washington state.

Parts of the event were broadcast on the Miliary Channel on Sunday night. Footage of the event will air throughout the month on the channel.

e-mail: aerickson@buffnews.com

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