Citadel grad slogs to top in Ranger competition Two-man team bests 49 others at Fort Benning

Capt. Robert Killian (right) clears an obstacle on Day 2 of the three-day Best Ranger Competition alongside his partner, Staff Sgt. Erich Friedlein.

Army National Guard Capt. Robert Killian, a South Carolina native and 2004 Citadel graduate, was part of a two-man team that took first place last weekend in the famously grueling Best Ranger Competition.

Killian, 34, and teammate Staff Sgt. Erich Friedlein of Pennsylvania earned the highest combined score in the three-day series of events at Fort Benning, Ga., that included obstacle courses, extended slogs through the mud, marksmanship challenges and a middle-of-the-night marathon run over rough terrain. Of the 50 teams that entered the competition, only 23 made it to the final day.

“I definitely have some blisters, some sore muscles, but overall I’m feeling much better today than I did yesterday,” Killian said when reached by phone Tuesday. Killian grew up in the Charleston area and Sumter before attending The Citadel.

Even within the world of obstacle and endurance racing, it doesn’t get much tougher than the annual Ranger contest, now in its 33rd year. Competitors are only allowed to eat five Meal Ready-to-Eat rations during the contest, and this year saw the addition of a concrete ball-carrying event and a Spartan Race competition at the start of Day Two.

“It seems like every year they want to add something to make it a little more difficult,” said Fort Benning spokesman Nate Snook.

Killian has competed in the event twice before, coming up short of victory both times. Last year, at the invitation of West Point professor Col. Liam Collins, Killian competed in the civilian world’s 13-mile Spartan Race World Championship in Lake Tahoe and surprised his civilian competitors with a first-place finish. Fans started wearing T-shirts that alluded to his out-of-nowhere dominance in the field: “Who the #@$% is Robert Killian?”

“I just laughed because I knew what he was capable of doing,” Collins said.

Citadel Coach Jody Huddleston said he recognized that Killian was “mentally tough” during his time on the school’s track and cross-country teams, but he had no idea Killian would go on to compete in extreme events such as the Best Ranger Competition. Huddleston added that while civilians only recently started participating in hard-core obstacle courses, soldiers have been doing it for years without much publicity.

“All this other competition stuff, gyms doing CrossFit, it’s really kind of morphed into a phenomenon,” Huddleston said. “But these guys were doing it first in the military.”

For Killian, who served in Iraq and currently is part of the Colorado Army National Guard at Fort Carson, training for such events is partly preparation for his day job.

“Being a Green Beret, we’re moving through remote areas, and you have to rely on your ability to have physical endurance and stamina,” Killian said. “You’re putting one foot in front of the other, and that’s when it’s good to have a partner.”

Reach Paul Bowers at 843-937-5546 or