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Army's 'Best Ranger' hails from Eau Claire
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FORT BENNING, Ga. (April 19, 2021) – Lt. Gen. Michael E. Kurilla, 18th Airborne Coprs commanding genral, speaks at the 2021 Best Ranger Award ceremony. 1st. Lt. Vince Paikowski and 1st. Lt. Alastair Keys of Team 34, representing the 75th Ranger Regiment finished on top over 52 teams that began the 2021 Best Ranger Competition April 16 through 18 at Fort Benning, Georgia. They are the “Best Rangers” 2021. (U.S. Army photo by Patrick A. Albright Maneuver Center of Excellence, Fort Benning Public Affairs)

EAU CLAIRE – Calling the Army’s Best Ranger Competition brutal doesn’t do it justice. Even some of the best soldiers don’t make it through all three days.

Eau Claire native 1st Lt. Alastair Keys did more than just finish. He won.

Stars and Stripes called the event the Army’s version of the Super Bowl. Teams come from a wide range of specialties. The 10th Mountain Division sent a team. Both the 82nd and 101st Airborne sent multiple teams. Four teams came from the 75th Ranger Regiment, stationed at Ft. Benning, where the competition takes place.

1st Lt. Alastair Keys and 1st Lt. Vince Paikowski (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army)

The April 16-18 competition started with a nine-mile run in predawn darkness. Obstacle courses, swims, marches, more runs and eight separate marksmanship events followed. Sleep didn’t. Winning requires a wide-ranging skill set and the ability to keep pushing through fatigue and pain, well beyond the point most people would happily call it quits.

How tough is the competition? You’re not just being pushed to do hard work for hours on end. You’re doing it at a point where most people would have trouble functioning at all. The description by Stars and Stripes said the three-day challenge allows for three hours’ sleep “at most.”

This year began with 52 teams. By the third day just 16 were left. At the end, Keys was atop the board with his partner, 1st Lt. Vince Paikowski. Keys, a 2013 Memorial graduate, now has his name on one of the top trophies in the U.S. Army.


FORT BENNING, Ga. - After two full days and nights of events to test their stamina, technical prowess and mental acuity, 16 teams crossed the finish line April 18, concluding the 2021 Best Ranger Competition. (U.S. Army photo by Patrick Albright, Maneuver Center of Excellence, Fort Benning Public Affairs)

Catherine Keys, Alastair’s mom, watched much of the competition and said it’s nerve-wracking for spectators, too. One event required the soldiers to shimmy up a rope, walk across a beam several stories up and climb up and down steps in the middle of the beam. It’s pure balance. There are no ways to stabilize yourself. At the end of the beam competitors climb onto another rope and slide horizontally to a Ranger tab. After touching the tab, they drop off the rope and into the pond below.

“It was pretty grueling for parents to watch, too,” she said. “There’s no harness, no safety net.”

For this year’s competition Keys partnered with another Wisconsin native. Paikowski is from the Milwaukee area. The participants aren’t told how they’re doing, but spectators get updates. Catherine knew her son’s team was way out in front. The 75th Ranger Regiment, in which both Keys and Paikowski serve, said on its Facebook page the pair led “from the very first event … until the final event today.”

Markeith Horace 

FORT BENNING, Ga. -- The 28 remaining teams of the 2021 Best Ranger Competition begin day two events at Todd Field with various round-robin events April 17. The teams took part Day Stakes: emergency resupply, tri-towers, weapons assembly, Ranger First Responder, grenade assault course, 81mm mortars, and BDE at Krilling range. (U.S. Army photo by Markeith Horace, Maneuver Center of Excellence, Fort Benning Public Affairs)

The Leader-Telegram was unable to set up an interview with Keys. Multiple calls and emails to the public affairs officer who would make the connection went unanswered.

This wasn’t the first time Keys participated in the Best Ranger Competition. He finished second last time, back in 2019. COVID precautions shut down the 2020 competition. The near-miss and the cancellation left him hungry for a win.

“He told us they were going to win. They were out to win,” Catherine said. “They just crushed it this year.”

Keys told Stars and Stripes much the same, crediting the win to the amount of work he and Paikowski put in during training. Both are veterans of the competition. Paikowski’s teammate in 2019 sustained an injury partway through the competition and couldn’t finish. This time, the pair of Wisconsin natives took the top spot together.

“It’s being durable for those later days in the competition and then staying mentally focused throughout your entire training period,” Keys told Stars and Stripes. “It’s making sure you’re making the most out of every rep, and you’re not just deciding, ‘Hey, I don’t feel like doing that extra rep today.’ Just keeping continuously mentally sharp on all those things for weeks of training.”

Photo courtesy of U.S. Army/Patrick Albright, Maneuver Center of Excellence, Fort Benning Public Affairs  

1st Lt. Vince Paikowski and 1st Lt. Alastair Keys cross the finish line at the completion of the 20201 Best Ranger Competition. The pair, both of whom are from Wisconsin, took first place.

Student's Snapchat profanity leads to high court speech case

WASHINGTON — Fourteen-year-old Brandi Levy was having that kind of day where she just wanted to scream. So she did, in a profanity-laced posting on Snapchat that has, improbably, ended up before the Supreme Court in the most significant case on student speech in more than 50 years.

At issue is whether public schools can discipline students over something they say off-campus. The topic is especially meaningful in a time of remote learning because of the coronavirus pandemic and a rising awareness of the pernicious effects of online bullying.

Arguments are on Wednesday, via telephone because of the pandemic, before a court on which several justices have school-age children or recently did.

The case has its roots in the Vietnam-era case of a high school in Des Moines, Iowa, that suspended students who wore armbands to protest the war. In a landmark ruling, the Supreme Court sided with the students, declaring students don’t “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”

Ever since, courts have wrestled with the contours of the decision in Tinker v. Des Moines in 1969.

Levy’s case has none of the lofty motives of Tinker and more than its share of teenage angst.

Levy and a friend were at a convenience store in her hometown of Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania, when she took to social media to express her frustration at being kept on her high school’s junior varsity cheerleading squad for another year.

“F——— school f——— softball f——— cheer f——— everything,” Levy wrote, in a post that also contained a photo in which she and a classmate raised their middle fingers.

The post was brought to the attention of the team’s coaches, who suspended Levy from the cheerleading team for a year.

Levy, now 18, is finishing her freshman year in college. “I was a 14-year-old kid. I was upset, I was angry. Everyone, every 14-year-old kid speaks like that at one point,” she said in an interview with The Associated Press.

Her parents knew nothing about the Snapchat post until she was suspended, she said.

“My parents were more concerned on how I was feeling,” Levy said, adding she wasn’t grounded or otherwise punished for what she did.

Instead, her parents filed a federal lawsuit, claiming the suspension violated their daughter’s constitutional speech rights.

Lower courts agreed and restored her to the cheerleading team. The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia held that “Tinker does not apply to off-campus speech.” The court said it was leaving for another day “the First Amendment implications of off-campus student speech that threatens violence or harasses others.”

But the school district, education groups, the Biden administration and anti-bullying organizations said in court filings that the appeals court went too far.

“The First Amendment does not categorically prohibit public schools from disciplining students for speech that occurs off campus,” acting Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar wrote on behalf of the administration.

Philip Lee, a University of District of Columbia law professor who has written about regulation of cyberbullying, said it makes no sense to draw the line on policing students’ speech at the edge of campus.

“Most cyberbullying content is created off campus on computers, iPads, all kinds of electronic devices,” said Lee, who joined a legal brief with other education scholars that calls for a nuanced approach to regulating student speech in the Internet age.

“But at same time, you don’t want situation where schools are monitoring everyone’s speech at home,” he said.

The Mahanoy Area School District declined to comment on the case, its lawyer, Lisa Blatt, said.

But in her brief for the district, Blatt wrote, “This case is about how schools address the bad days.”

Schools should not be forced “to ignore speech that disrupts the school environment or invades other students’ rights just because students launched that speech from five feet outside the schoolhouse gate,” Blatt wrote.

The school’s approach would allow educators to police what students say round the clock, said Witold “Vic” Walczak of the American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing Levy.

“And that is super dangerous. Not only would students like Brandi not be able to express non-threatening, non-harassing bursts of frustration, but it would give schools the possibility of regulating important political and religious speech,” Walczak said.

An unusual alliance of conservative and liberal interest groups has formed behind Levy, all pointing to the dangers of expanding school regulation of students speech.

The Alliance Defending Freedom and Christian Legal Society urged the court to affirm the appellate ruling because of “the perils of schools regulating off-campus speech. Religious speech, in particular, provokes debate and inflames passions.”

Mary Beth and John Tinker, the siblings at the center of the 1969 case, also are on Levy’s side. Their protest, updated for the digital age, would have included a social media component, perhaps a black armband digitally imposed on their school’s logo, they wrote in a high-court brief.

The outcome proposed by the school district would have left them subject to discipline, the Tinkers wrote.

Walczak, the ACLU lawyer, acknowledged that the “speech here is not the most important in the world. This isn’t political or religious speech.”

But Levy’s outburst has made her a potential successor to the Tinkers and their antiwar protest from the 1960s.

“I’m just trying to prove a point that young students and adults like me shouldn’t be punished for them expressing their own feelings and letting others know how they feel,” Levy said.

Eau Claire residents decry proposed brush site fee hikes
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EAU CLAIRE — Contending that a site where yard waste can be responsibly disposed of is a “basic service,” Eau Claire residents told the City Council to think twice about proposed fee hikes.

Prior to its meeting this afternoon to consider setting 2021 Jeffers Road Brush Site fees, the council held a public hearing Monday night to hear residents’ opinions.

“In my view you’re kind of gouging taxpayers for a fee that shouldn’t be there in the first place,” Gary Foster, a retired city government employee, told the council.

He argued that the brush site is a “basic service” the city should provide, contending it shouldn’t charge fees to users. Foster provided a list of numerous Wisconsin cities that don’t charge fees for dropping off grass clippings, leaves and small brush at their sites.

Renee Tyler, the city’s community services director, noted that many cities on that list also run their own municipal garbage collection services or have other ways to fund their brush sites.

“Whether it may be ‘free,’ the fees are wrapped in somewhere,” she said.

The city initially didn’t expect to be running its brush site, which local company Boxx Sanitation had operated for the past five years. However, Boxx opted not to renew its contract last fall and there were no others that showed interest when the city sought other operators this February.

That prompted the city to bring operation of the brush site back in-house and propose fees to fund it, which would be higher than what Boxx charged.

The private operator charged 50 cents per large paper bag of yard waste disposed at the site while the city is proposing $2 per bag. Emptying yard waste from a pickup truck bed cost $5 to $10 under Boxx, but the city plans to up that to $15 to $20, depending on the truck size.

Initially there was no season pass in the city’s fee structure, but one is now included after public feedback in favor of one. Boxx offered season passes for unlimited use of the brush site for $35 per year, while the city is now proposing a $45 season pass.

Eugene Olson said he and his neighbors were relieved the city now plans to offer the season pass as they frequently bring their yard waste to the Jeffers Road site. However, he was hoping to hear more about how the city arrived at the proposed fee hikes.

“It sounds like this was put together on short notice and some of those prices may have been arbitrarily put together,” he said during Monday night’s council meeting.

Councilwoman Kate Beaton also remarked that there were no projections for the site’s expenses compared to fee income and asked if such an analysis could be provided.

Eau Claire resident Doug Mell suggested the proposed fees be sent back for reconsideration or amended to have smaller increases.

“Some increases are valid, but not to this degree,” he said, contending they could lead people to illegally dump yard waste instead of paying the higher prices.

However, Tyler said while her department has had negative feedback on fee increases, it also heard from people upset the site hasn’t opened yet. Under Boxx, the site typically opened for the season on April 15, but the city won’t open it until the fee issue is set.

If fees are set today, Tyler said the site would open on Wednesday.

Hours for the brush site are scheduled for 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays, and 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturdays. The site is located on the Eau Claire’s north side at 5710 Jeffers Road.