I want others to make the decision to go to Ranger School. A "Not for the weak or faint hearted" sign greets you as you sign into the US Army's Ranger School -- 61 day combat leadership course oriented toward small-unit tactics. My desire to attend Ranger school evolved over my four years at West Point. Over these years I was exposed to quite a few Ranger qualified officers: all of my company tactical officers were airborne rangers. Some of my professors during my plebe (freshman) year were Rangers. Their professionalism, humility and genuine concern for all of us stood out... their own stories of what it was like in Ranger School truly intrigued and inspired me, I wanted to be just like them.
At the time I graduated from West Point; I was both airborne and air assault qualified. Next step was to earn the "coveted" black & gold Ranger tab when I complete the infantry officers’ basic course (IOBC) at Fort Benning, Georgia. That was the "plan." Unfortunately, things rarely go as planned. I gave up most of my summer graduation leave to start IOBC early (three weeks after graduation) with the brilliant idea of beginning a Ranger class that would keep me out of the winter phase and give me the opportunity to spend time at home for Christmas. I entered class 10-88 on 22 October 1988 and in less than a week; I was out as a medical drop. I had torn up the bottom of my feet (blisters rubbed raw; enough to bleed through my green jungle boots) while trying not to fall out of a forced ten mile road march. If not Christmas, I at least made it home for Thanksgiving. After my leave was over, I reported to the recently reactivated 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry), Fort Drum, New York without the "tab." There was and still is an unspoken policy that you are only going to be put into an infantry officer leadership position by being Ranger qualified. Fortunately for me I was given a light infantry platoon to lead. The rifle company that I was assigned to had all officers that were Ranger qualified including one of my classmates from West Point. Until you go back and graduate, you will live with this stigma of not having what it takes. It was almost like being treated as a second class citizen. Your left shoulder is the first thing that people would look at. Every day you will come across someone with the "tab" and it will remind you of your failure. And, on top of that, your leadership from Captain on up to Lieutenant Colonel and even some of your peers will ask you, "when are you going back?" I would say with "as soon as possible.” That "soon" came six months later.
I was sent back down to Benning and was dropped as a PT failure; I could not perform the six pull up requirement because I had to retest my "Ranger-standard" pushups (my upper body was totally smoked). I went back to my unit ashamed and embarrassed, feeling that I had let everyone down. That was something that seriously weighed on my mind for another 15 months until I had a chance to go back again. Talk about pressure. Getting past the first phase was not as hard as I thought it might be. I had already spent 22 months as a platoon leader -- humping a big ass ruck, long road marches in the cold and snow and constantly being in a leadership role, made it more manageable. I also contribute the fact that I was more mature and experienced this third time around. I would often say to myself, "this is not as hard as what we did up at Drum." Also, in back of my mind is what Colonel 'Tex’ Turner, head of the Department of Military Instruction (DMI) told us. “There are two kinds of officers, those who are Ranger qualified, and those with excuses of why they are not;" I did not want to be latter. Besides the lack of sleep, being peered in the Benning phase and the loss of 15 pounds my experience was pretty typical of what others had gone through.
I share my journey with to help set the conditions for you to make your own decision to go to Ranger School. I'll close with what Brace Barber a West Pointer shared in his book "No Excuse Leadership." If you quit, you quit; you lose for now. If you continue to try, you are among the minority. If you continue to quit you are part of the majority. It does not matter what excuse you make. They all have the same result--failure. I hope that my two failures inspire you to step up and go for it. Do not take this decision lightly because once you sign in, you will own it and giving it up will follow you throughout your time in the Army and life. There will not be a single day that goes by that you will not think about it. Good luck in your careers. And, thank you in advance for your service. Rangers Lead the Way (RLTW)!
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