You don’t get to be an Army Ranger — the elite of the elite in our Armed Forces — without a bit of cunning. Staff Sgt. Robert McCain certainly has a bit of that.
McCain has gone viral after he solved a puzzle at this weekend’s 2022 Best Ranger Competition in Fort Benning, Georgia, a brutal test of skill, strength, endurance and — especially in McCain’s case — ingenuity.
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As the Army’s website notes, the Best Ranger Competition is “a Ranger Olympics to identify the best two-man buddy team” over a series of events.
“From the very beginning, the objective was clear: The competition should place extreme demands on each buddy teams’ physical, mental, technical and tactical skills as Rangers,” the website reads.
“The standards of performance were to test the mettle of those Ranger-qualified Soldiers who dared to compete.”
Mettle, however, isn’t always just scaling walls or running marathons. Sometimes, it involves reading the instructions carefully.
According to military website Task & Purpose, McCain and Team 41 co-member Sgt. 1st Class Ryan Peterson went viral during a mystery event on Saturday. The goal — or at least the stated goal — was for teams to decode a secret message that would reveal a word used as a key to unlock a box.
The message was written in the Revolutionary War-era Culper Code, which isn’t necessarily the easiest thing for a 21st-century Ranger to parse.
However, the rules didn’t explicitly state that the only way to open the box was to decode the message — something McCain took note of.
A *chef’s kiss* moment from today with Team 41 — during the mystery event, competitors were instructed to decode a message which would include the key to unlock the box.
*Technically* the instructions didn’t say you had to decode the key first… pic.twitter.com/99CVf7SQkJ
— Haley Britzky (@halbritz) April 9, 2022
McCain quickly realized the box could be opened without being broken or without decoding the message. All it took was a careful display of strength — although the Ranger’s superiors seemed to think he wanted to bust the box open.
“Don’t break the box. Don’t break the box,” a voice off-camera can be heard saying.
As he pried the top open, McCain noted the rules didn’t prohibit what he was doing.
“You mean I have to undo the lock? Because it doesn’t say that, it says open the locked ammo can,” McCain said.
This still led to more pleading from his superiors.
“All right, stop, stop. Don’t break the box. That’s the only box we have,” an instructor said.
Without breaking the box, McCain was able to empty its contents — much to the consternation of a face-palming instructor standing next to him.
The Army Ranger became an instant hit online:
This is the type of NCO I’d want to follow… “we’ll get it done, just don’t ask us how” https://t.co/ZGjcwfQWv7
— Nick (@NickyBanks14) April 12, 2022
This is what your NCOs mean when they say, “We can get it done fast, just don’t ask how, sir/ma’am.” This is awesome lol https://t.co/QEGHJpeIHj
— ian 🇺🇦 (@ChemicalFire) April 10, 2022
Promote ahead of peers https://t.co/tjGbhlKPsZ
— Sean Wilkes, M.D. (@DrSeanWilkes) April 12, 2022
solutions > instructions https://t.co/UtqYBGb9iK
— Canadian Forces in 🇺🇸 (@CAFinUS) April 12, 2022
And, according to Task & Purpose, they also decoded the message while they were at it. Capt. Shawn Gardner, the Airborne and Ranger Training Brigade soldier who put the event together, didn’t penalize them. In fact, he noted that he devised the task based on his love of escape rooms — and McCain’s outside-the-box thinking showed what makes designing a good escape room so difficult.
“One thing I know escape room owners and managers would learn over time is, you have to plan for the worst thing to happen, right? So if you don’t give them specific instructions not to do that, they will probably have at least one — like him — that would try to do that,” Gardner said.
“And McCain, too, I know him personally, we worked last year together. He has a very big personality, and he is the kind of person that would go in and do that … It was really funny that he was the one to do that.”
Yes, it’s impressive to solve a puzzle in the Culper Code. It’s more impressive — and useful — for an Army Ranger to realize he doesn’t have to in order to complete the task. Bravo, sir.
Team 41 ended up finishing 14th out of 51 in the Best Ranger Competition. Thanks to McCain’s quick thinking, however, they’ll probably be the only team most of us remember.
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