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thedrifter
04-23-06, 09:35 AM
Posted on Sun, Apr. 23, 2006
Nine teams eliminated, so far
17 two-man teams still in race to be named the best
BY MICK WALSH
Staff Writer

The remaining contenders in the annual Best Ranger Competition at Fort Benning probably wish now that Spc. Mikhail Venikov had gone through with plans to become a firefighter in Sacramento, Calif., instead of an Army Ranger.

Of course, they may also wish that Ivan Venikov hadn't brought his family to the United States from the Ukraine in the mid-'80s to escape religious persecution by the Soviets.

And what if Venikov, 23, hadn't been paired up with Sgt. 1st Class John Sheaffer, 32, last Monday after Sheaffer's original training partner had hurt his back?

Forget the "what ifs."

Venikov and Sheaffer came into Saturday's round of events at muddy Todd Field leading the field of 17 two-man teams -- nine tandems were eliminated in the 18-mile Friday night/Saturday morning road march. Representing the 75th Ranger Regiment, they remained strong throughout a cool, cloudy day in which they climbed, tomahawked and stress shot their way one step closer to the ultimate prize.

"It would be very special for my son to win this competition," said Ivan Venikov, who closely resembles the actor Liam Neeson. "He did well in the march last night, and he's done well today. One more day."

Well, actually, there was the matter of a 10-hour overnight orienteering session before the final three events on today's calendar could unfold.

All on tape

Mikhail Venikov, just plain Mike to those who followed him from venue to venue Saturday, was 7 when his parents brought the family to the United States, settling in California.

It was there that Ivan, a Pentecostal, opened a mission for his fellow emigres. He raised his family of six children -- Mike is the second oldest.

"I try to teach them self-discipline, to always do their best and to help each other," he said, as he walked toward the field's 60-foot tower, which Mike was about to scale using a Prusik knot and a rope to reach the top, then rappel down the other side.

It took him a minute, 36 seconds, a bit longer than his partner's 1:10, but a fine time nonetheless. Their combined time was easily enough to keep them in first place.

Venikov came into the Army three years ago, but only after his dad talked him out of two other career opportunities.

"He told me after finishing school (where he'd been an outstanding wrestler) that he wanted to become a fireman," Ivan said. "Then he decided to join the Marines. But I said 'no.' The Rangers were OK. I'd been in a group like the Rangers in the Soviet Army. So he became a Ranger."

Ivan, his brother Vlademer, and Vlademer's son will be here until Monday afternoon when they return to Sacramento.

They'll be able to relive most of the competition when they return. Ivan has it all on video tape, even the finish of the road march, which ended in horrible weather conditions early Saturday.

Hundreds of spectators came out Saturday to cheer on their favorite teams, including a Junior ROTC group from Bradenton, Fla.

"We've been staying in a barracks at Sand Hill," said senior cadet 1st Lt. Thomas Novak. "We were up at 3:30 yesterday, had breakfast at the dining facility and were able to watch some of the physical training at the Ranger Training Brigade. Being here this week has been great."

Concludes today

Four retired Ranger buddies, whose service dated back to the Korean War, also took in Saturday's events.

Richard Carvell of St. Albans, W.Va., and Bob Geer of Norwalk, Ohio, were the guests of Bob Safran of Columbus and Chuck Waters of Smiths Station, Ala.

"This gives us a great opportunity to visit," said Geer, a Ranger Hall of Famer, who lost an eye at the battle of Chip Young Ni in 1951. He also lost his brother Richard in the same battle.

The foursome, all members of a 1st Airborne Ranger company, spent much of the morning talking to their younger Ranger brothers.

"After talking to his Rangers, it's the one time in my life I don't mind being a taxpayer," Waters said.

Saturday's competition, which included a knot test, a tomahawk throw, a grenade toss, a weapons disassembly/assembly while blindfolded and the demanding Prusik climb, ended around dinner time.

Going into those events, the Venikov-Sheaffer team had a lead over the tandem of 2nd Lt. John Agnew and 2nd Lt. Donovan Duke of the 11th Infantry Regiment and the third-place team of Capt. Joshua Eaton and Capt. Wesley Davidson, also of the 11th.

The competition concludes this afternoon with a Buddy Run at Camp Rogers. A formal awards presentation is set for 10 a.m. Monday at the Ranger Memorial on main post.
Contact Mick Walsh at (706) 571-8588 or mwalsh@ledger-enquirer.com

Ellie