Ranger School. Can I get a Hoowa?

 

This is a good but long article about making it through the US Army Ranger School: Army Ranger School is a Laboratory of Human Endurance.

I’ll say. Or, as Sheriff Walt Longmire would say, “Boy howdy” (Sorry, just binged out on three Longmire novels).

Whatever its pros and cons, if you go all the way through Ranger School you’ve earned a master’s degree in suffering; and in performing while suffering, which is pretty much the point.

The author is a Ranger-qualified veteran who goes back as a writer. He brought some memories back. If you go to Ranger School, the keyword is “suck.” All 24 hours of every day (even that one or two that you get to spend sleeping) suck. There’s not a doubt in my mind that Ranger School is the progenitor of the military philosophy of “embrace the suck.” But, the hardest thing you’ve ever done is the psychic high watermark for hard.

In my old career, being Ranger qualified was considered kind of an entry-level position. Okay, kid, you got your driver’s license; that doesn’t mean you’re ready to compete in NASCAR.  One of the tropes about Ranger School is that “you learn who you are.” Okay. I learned that I don’t like patrolling 18-22 hours a day humping a rucksack heavy enough to qualify as ridonckulous. I learned I don’t like getting only one, maybe two, MREs per day when I would’ve needed about 5 for my body to compensate for the caloric output. I learned I don’t like being so sleep deprived that I hallucinate. I learned that I can tell when my body switches from burning fat to burning higher protein muscle by the smell of my own body odor. The author states that Ranger students lose up to 20 pounds during the course. I found that number too short by half. Twice that.* I think I knew all that stuff going in.

But I’m glad I went. The author attended the school and then bird-dogged with a Ranger class as a writer when the school was only three phases: Darby, mountains, and swamp. When I went (twice), there was a fourth phase, desert. The desert phase was out in Dugway Proving Grounds, Utah. That’s where we (US government we, not Ranger we) do Research, Development, Testing, and Evaluation of all the radiological, chemical and bioweapons that are the stuff of nightmares. We had to carry live atropine injectors in case we hit a bit of nastiness that hadn’t been properly cleaned up. Also, whatever was in the soil there turned the black leather of our combat boots purple. Weird, right?

The author does a good job describing the privations that are inherent to the school.

I can remember doing a hit in the mountain phase.  The mission was a raid.  The objective was a little house tucked into a hollow (in Infantry-ese, they are called draws.  Draws suck.  Draws are where the monsters are).  It was 0-dark-thirty.  The only light was from the sliver of the moon reflecting off the pre-dawn mist clinging to the walls of the hollow.  We had dumped non-essential equipment earlier.  We were exhausted to the point of hallucinations.  We were malnourished to the point of starvation.  We were, in the parlance, a soup sandwich.

But as I watched my Ranger brethren ghost silently down the sides of the mountain like wraiths, I realized that we were also very, very good.

The raid went off without a hitch.

*I went all the way through Ranger school (i.e., completed every phase at least once) and got bounced out for not passing enough patrols.  So a couple of years later I went back.  I was a young Infantry officer with aspirations to go to Special Forces.  So about 30-35% of the reason I went back was because I thought it right and proper that a guy on that career path be Ranger qualified and 65-70% of the reason that I went back was so that I could legitimately say that I got screwed the first time I went.  If you don’t go back and earn your due, then it’s all just sour grapes.  Weight loss through both iterations was greater than 40 pounds.

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  1. Chris Hutchinson Coolidge
    Chris Hutchinson
    @chrishutch13

    Ha… I just read that yesterday! RLTW!

    • #1
  2. Chris Hutchinson Coolidge
    Chris Hutchinson
    @chrishutch13

    Boss Mongo:

    The author states that Ranger students lose up to 20 pounds during the course. I found that number too short by half. Twice.* I think I knew all that stuff going in.

    But I’m glad I went. The author attended the school, and then bird-dogged with a Ranger class as a writer, when the school was only three phases: Darby, mountains, and swamp.

    I personally probably only lost about 20 lbs. but that was because I was pretty thin. I don’t know exactly how much really. The funny thing (not really) was that pudged out right afterwards real quick. I put on about 30 lbs. in a week. I got back to normal pretty quickly but I had double chins and was wearing sweat clothes for a few weeks. I literally still have stretch marks.

    So… you know how everyone always jokes they went to “the last hard class.” I started in 8-95, which was the first without desert phase. I always get a laugh when I tell people I went to the first easy class.

    The writer mentioned the four guys who died in the swamps in Feb 1995. I had just found out I had gotten a date for class a few days before that happened. I couldn’t let on of course but it freaked me out a bit. It really freaked out my mom!

    • #2
  3. Boss Mongo Member
    Boss Mongo
    @BossMongo

    Chris Hutchinson (View Comment):
    The funny thing (not really) was that pudged out right afterwards real quick.

    Yes.  I think a big part of that is that your body does weird stuff with water retention when you get back to “normal.”  At Group, we used to tell guys that it would be 6 months to a year for full recovery.

    Chris Hutchinson (View Comment):
    The writer mentioned the four guys who died in the swamps in Feb 1995.

    That was a debacle.  RTB is lucky they only lost four.

    • #3
  4. Jim Beck Inactive
    Jim Beck
    @JimBeck

    Morning Boss and Chris,

    Does the training make a soldier a better warrior, or does it sift out the better warriors?  And if it does neither, what would be a good way to train men to be better warriors.  I have no experience in military service, and the closest knowledge I have was through my uncle in WWII. 

    • #4
  5. Boss Mongo Member
    Boss Mongo
    @BossMongo

    Jim Beck (View Comment):
    Does the training make a soldier a better warrior, or does it sift out the better warriors?

    I think the answer is: Yes.  But it’s probably a sliding scale spectrum.  That’s the 64K dollar question that all sorts of big brain psych’s and statisticians grapple with all the time.

    • #5
  6. Instugator Thatcher
    Instugator
    @Instugator

    Boss Mongo:

    I went all the way through Ranger school (i.e., completed every phase at least once) and got bounced out for not passing enough patrols.

    Two questions. Did you take enough pogy bait the second time to hold off the hunger pangs just a few more hours, or did you just embrace the suck right from the get go?

    Second, Did you find the problems (patrols, navigation, raid planning and execution) easier to solve the second time?

    • #6
  7. Jim Beck Inactive
    Jim Beck
    @JimBeck

    Morning again Boss,

    Thanks for your reply.  Using my uncle as a reference, he goes into the infantry for the Sixth Armed Division of Patton’s Third Army, when he was 19.  A year or two later, he is called “the old man” and the new soldiers are told to follow his behavior.  I am wondering how much of being a good warrior is the ability to survive?  Manage risk?  He became a good poker player, sending money home, but perhaps many soldiers during the war were more relaxed about loosing than they would be after the war. I am not sure risk assessment in battle has any relation to risk assessment in poker. As an aside, he thought about the war every day of his life after coming home.

    • #7
  8. Boss Mongo Member
    Boss Mongo
    @BossMongo

    Instugator (View Comment):
    Did you take enough pogy bait the second time to hold off the hunger pangs just a few more hours, or did you just embrace the suck right from the get go?

    Nope.  The shakedowns are pretty intense and getting busted means getting booted, so I went hungry early.

    Instugator (View Comment):
    Second, Did you find the problems (patrols, navigation, raid planning and execution) easier to solve the second time?

    I would submit, thus the reason I went back, that my performance was up to snuff the first time.  What I did have was one combat tour under my belt, and I knew–rather than hoped–I was a good leader.

    It was funny, going back.  During the initial Darby phase standing in formation and listening to the batboys and 2LTs talk about how hard the training was going to be.  I just kind of stood there, rocking on my heels and thinking you cats have no idea what we’re about to go through.

    • #8
  9. JimGoneWild Coolidge
    JimGoneWild
    @JimGoneWild

    Good article. Thanks Boss Man.

    In Germany, we had a few NCO’s that had gone through Ranger school. One had been an RI, in fact. Good dude. 100% of the battalion officers were Ranger tabbed, including our S2 captain, who went through at the age of 35.

    It was interesting to hear young lieutenants talk about their varied experiences. 

    I do remember 2 Ranger students died from hypothermia, I believe in the Florida phase, during the winter. If I recall right, the RI’s were court marshalled for neglect. The warning signs had been clear but the RI’s ignored them.

    I had a couple of enlisted friends in the 2nd Ranger battalion, but they never went to Ranger school, just RIP. Other than officers, who is required to attend (and graduate?) Ranger school in the enlisted ranks?

    • #9
  10. Boss Mongo Member
    Boss Mongo
    @BossMongo

    JimGoneWild (View Comment):
    Other than officers, who is required to attend (and graduate?) Ranger school in the enlisted ranks?

    Jim, no one is required to attend/graduate.  In both officer and enlisted ranks, if you want to serve in the Ranger Regiment in a leadership position, you must be a graduate.  In numerous Infantry units, having a tab is a definite credibility-builder.  There are some Infantry units where they say you won’t get command if you aren’t a Ranger, but that’s a unit decision, not the Army.

    I’ve got a friend who was a PFC in 2nd BN during Panama.  He was the Commander’s RTO.  The Commander was the first guy out the door, followed by him (His AAR point: You ain’t never been sphinctered up like you get sphinctered up when the jump doors open up and there’s green tracers all over the sky).  He got bounced at the same time I did.  Which meant he got booted from Regiment.  He went SF and did great there.

    • #10
  11. Barry Jones Thatcher
    Barry Jones
    @BarryJones

    Jim Beck (View Comment):

    Morning again Boss,

    Thanks for your reply. Using my uncle as a reference, he goes into the infantry for the Sixth Armed Division of Patton’s Third Army, when he was 19. A year or two later, he is called “the old man” and the new soldiers are told to follow his behavior. I am wondering how much of being a good warrior is the ability to survive? Manage risk? He became a good poker player, sending money home, but perhaps many soldiers during the war were more relaxed about loosing than they would be after the war. I am not sure risk assessment in battle has any relation to risk assessment in poker. As an aside, he thought about the war every day of his life after coming home.

    Being a rifleman in the ETO in WWII was, at best, a hazardous occupation. There were Infantry Divisions that had 500% casualties (or more) in the line (rifle) companies from June of 44 to the end of the war. Some soldiers were killed or wounded and med evaced out within mere hours of reporting into their unit. Not all were killed, less than a third(roughly), actually and many returned to duty after a few days or weeks…but many did not. Luck had a LOT to do with it as even experienced veterans were wounded (some several times) or killed (some within days of the end of the war. Infantry combat is hazardous. Good training can mitigate the hazards…but only mitigate. Ranger School is a good way to get the results out of good training out the Army at large. Glad I was a tanker! :) But although not a lot of patrolling is done in a tank, the basics of soldering do apply(mission orientation, flexibility, the ability to quickly crank out a good op order, etc)  and were used to good effect by Armor officers who also had a tab.

    • #11
  12. Chris Hutchinson Coolidge
    Chris Hutchinson
    @chrishutch13

    Jim Beck (View Comment):
    Does the training make a soldier a better warrior, or does it sift out the better warriors?

    Hi, Jim… I think it makes you a better warrior as I don’t know many who didn’t come out of it thinking they were better for the experience, and that includes guys who went to actual combat before going to Ranger School. Every once in a while I’ll come across someone who says it was stupid and a waste of time but I disagree. Strongly. I know I was a better leader and a better soldier afterwards.

    • #12
  13. Chris Hutchinson Coolidge
    Chris Hutchinson
    @chrishutch13

    Boss Mongo (View Comment):

    Instugator (View Comment):
    Did you take enough pogy bait the second time to hold off the hunger pangs just a few more hours, or did you just embrace the suck right from the get go?

    Nope. The shakedowns are pretty intense and getting busted means getting booted, so I went hungry early.

    Instugator (View Comment):
    Second, Did you find the problems (patrols, navigation, raid planning and execution) easier to solve the second time?

    I would submit, thus the reason I went back, that my performance was up to snuff the first time. What I did have was one combat tour under my belt, and I knew–rather than hoped–I was a good leader.

    It was funny, going back. During the initial Darby phase standing in formation and listening to the batboys and 2LTs talk about how hard the training was going to be. I just kind of stood there, rocking on my heels and thinking you cats have no idea what we’re about to go through.

    Yeah, there would be the “chow-thief” every once in a while but no one’s really going to take the chance to bring pogey bait.

    On the second question, I have to full confirm something Boss implies. When it comes to patrols, there are definitely some that get their Tab and didn’t deserve it and some who didn’t get it but deserved it much more. In addition to Boss having the confidence of being an actual combat leader, I’d imagine just knowing you went through it before does a lot for you mentally. A lot of things that happened were really really physically demanding but it was the uncertainty of things that were usually the roughest part of the course.

    • #13
  14. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    .

    • #14
  15. Boss Mongo Member
    Boss Mongo
    @BossMongo

    Skyler (View Comment):

    Eh, they have women attend in large numbers. It can’t be that hard.

    Don’t even get me started.

    • #15
  16. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    Boss Mongo (View Comment):

    Skyler (View Comment):

    Eh, they have women attend in large numbers. It can’t be that hard.

    Don’t even get me started.

    Sorry, I decided that my comment would not be thought funny and I don’t want to change the subject.  Please forgive.

    • #16
  17. KirkianWanderer Coolidge
    KirkianWanderer
    @KirkianWanderer

    Great post! A bit unrelated, but I love the first three Longmire novels (as well as the series); they kind of lost me once his relationship with Vic became centre stage. They’re intelligently, skillfully written and it was a clever choice by Craig Johnson to turn the familiar trop of cowboy vs. Indian on its head, and have Walt and Henry as the modern day Tonto and Lone Ranger, but with a greater sense of equality/equally fleshed out characters. I have a bit of a funny relationship with them because I spent my whole first plane ride ever, at 17, to England reading one and when I got an incredibly bad bloody nose (ie more than an hour and a half) a few nights later in London, I kept myself awake and relatively calm reading the next two. So good books, but not the best memories.

    • #17
  18. Boss Mongo Member
    Boss Mongo
    @BossMongo

    KirkianWanderer (View Comment):
    A bit unrelated, but I love the first three Longmire novels (as well as the series)

    Yeah, a lot of the physical abuse Walt sucks up unfailingly remind me of…Ranger school.

    • #18
  19. JimGoneWild Coolidge
    JimGoneWild
    @JimGoneWild

    Chris Hutchinson (View Comment):
    Chris Hutchinson

    Boss Mongo (View Comment):

    Instugator (View Comment):
    Did you take enough pogy bait the second time to hold off the hunger pangs just a few more hours, or did you just embrace the suck right from the get go?

    Nope. The shakedowns are pretty intense and getting busted means getting booted, so I went hungry early.

    It was in the Army Times about a year that some Ranger student was caught stashing food in the train area at Benning. I guess that be a No-Go.

    • #19
  20. JimGoneWild Coolidge
    JimGoneWild
    @JimGoneWild

    Boss Mongo (View Comment):
    I’ve got a friend who was a PFC in 2nd BN during Panama. He was the Commander’s RTO. The Commander was the first guy out the door, followed by him (His AAR point: You ain’t never been sphinctered up like you get sphinctered up when the jump doors open up and there’s green tracers all over the sky).

    I worked with a guy, a Ranger EM, who went into combat in Panama riding on the skid(?) of a special ops helicopter with 3 other Rangers. Said the helicopter had a mini-gun and was blazing away all the way in. Maybe you know the helicopter. He said it was most scared he had ever been in his life.

    • #20
  21. Jim Beck Inactive
    Jim Beck
    @JimBeck

    Afternoon Barry,

    Thanks for your reply.  My uncle Oran, was a rifleman, his brother Artie worked in the maintenance battalion in the same division.  Oran thought that the German soldiers were good warriors.  He spent a few months in England after being hit with shrapnel.  

    Afternoon Chris,

    Not to minimize the value of the ranger training, but whatever we work hard for and invest time in and sweatover, we tend to value.  This speaks more to human nature than to the effectiveness of the training.  So, I would be surprised if men did not think that their experience had value and was worth it.  Would you say that the population of rangers are noticeably better warriors than the population of soldiers or officers who were not rangers. Is this a good way to find or measure warriors?  I would place judgement and the ability to maintain a cool head under pressure would be toward the top of my list of characteristics for a good warrior, right beside courage, the more obvious characteristic.  You and Boss are much more knowledgeable about what makes a good warrior and I would like to know you thoughts.

    • #21
  22. Guruforhire Member
    Guruforhire
    @Guruforhire

    Hmmm… I went from 165 to 150 in Basic Training at Benning.

    Sounds like I probably wouldn’t have seen the other side of ranger school.

    I didn’t really fill out until 23.

    • #22
  23. MichaelKennedy Inactive
    MichaelKennedy
    @MichaelKennedy

    OK. So no questions about those female graduates that got their records “wiped” like Chris Steele’s.

    • #23
  24. Chris Hutchinson Coolidge
    Chris Hutchinson
    @chrishutch13

    JimGoneWild (View Comment):

    Boss Mongo (View Comment):
    I’ve got a friend who was a PFC in 2nd BN during Panama. He was the Commander’s RTO. The Commander was the first guy out the door, followed by him (His AAR point: You ain’t never been sphinctered up like you get sphinctered up when the jump doors open up and there’s green tracers all over the sky).

    I worked with a guy, a Ranger EM, who went into combat in Panama riding on the skid(?) of a special ops helicopter with 3 other Rangers. Said the helicopter had a mini-gun and was blazing away all the way in. Maybe you know the helicopter. He said it was most scared he had ever been in his life.

    Oh, yeah… a Little Bird! Boss just posted about Senior’s interview with Cristo in Act of Valor. Did you see the movie? Remember the part where the SWCCs come in providing support during their extraction? Imagine that from a little helicopter.

    • #24
  25. Chris Hutchinson Coolidge
    Chris Hutchinson
    @chrishutch13

    Jim Beck (View Comment):

    Afternoon Barry,

    Thanks for your reply. My uncle Oran, was a rifleman, his brother Artie worked in the maintenance battalion in the same division. Oran thought that the German soldiers were good warriors. He spent a few months in England after being hit with shrapnel.

    Afternoon Chris,

    Not to minimize the value of the ranger training, but whatever we work hard for and invest time in and sweatover, we tend to value. This speaks more to human nature than to the effectiveness of the training. So, I would be surprised if men did not think that their experience had value and was worth it. Would you say that the population of rangers are noticeably better warriors than the population of soldiers or officers who were not rangers. Is this a good way to find or measure warriors? I would place judgement and the ability to maintain a cool head under pressure would be toward the top of my list of characteristics for a good warrior, right beside courage, the more obvious characteristic. You and Boss are much more knowledgeable about what makes a good warrior and I would like to know you thoughts.

    It’s pushing midnight here and there’s a bit to unpack in replying to that. I’m not sure how much time I’ll have over the weekend but I will definitely try to remember to come back to this and share some of my thoughts and opinions.

    • #25
  26. Barry Jones Thatcher
    Barry Jones
    @BarryJones

    Chris Hutchinson (View Comment):

    Jim Beck (View Comment):

    Afternoon Barry,

    Thanks for your reply. My uncle Oran, was a rifleman, his brother Artie worked in the maintenance battalion in the same division. Oran thought that the German soldiers were good warriors. He spent a few months in England after being hit with shrapnel.

    Afternoon Chris,

    Not to minimize the value of the ranger training, but whatever we work hard for and invest time in and sweatover, we tend to value. This speaks more to human nature than to the effectiveness of the training. So, I would be surprised if men did not think that their experience had value and was worth it. Would you say that the population of rangers are noticeably better warriors than the population of soldiers or officers who were not rangers. Is this a good way to find or measure warriors? I would place judgement and the ability to maintain a cool head under pressure would be toward the top of my list of characteristics for a good warrior, right beside courage, the more obvious characteristic. You and Boss are much more knowledgeable about what makes a good warrior and I would like to know you thoughts.

    It’s pushing midnight here and there’s a bit to unpack in replying to that. I’m not sure how much time I’ll have over the weekend but I will definitely try to remember to come back to this and share some of my thoughts and opinions.

    You didn’t ask me but here is my 2 cents worth of input – I think the major benefit of Ranger School is that it has been a very good way to spread good practices, the ethos, attitude, and experience through out the Army Combat Arms Branches via the junior officers and the NCOs that get tabbed but never serve in a Ranger Battalion. A HUGE plus (coming from a non Ranger guy – like I said tanks don’t do patrolling or swamps or rappel down mountains well, more than once anyway!) for the Army that has paid off. Remember attitude has lot to do with winning…if YOU don’t think you are the biggest, baddest, meanest Son of a Gun on the battlefield, the chances are your opponent won’t either… As an Armor Officer in the 70 and 80s I flat KNEW that win, loose or draw the other guy was going to know he had been in a fight when it was over – and would regret starting it!

    • #26
  27. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    JimGoneWild (View Comment):

    Boss Mongo (View Comment):
    I’ve got a friend who was a PFC in 2nd BN during Panama. He was the Commander’s RTO. The Commander was the first guy out the door, followed by him (His AAR point: You ain’t never been sphinctered up like you get sphinctered up when the jump doors open up and there’s green tracers all over the sky).

    I worked with a guy, a Ranger EM, who went into combat in Panama riding on the skid(?) of a special ops helicopter with 3 other Rangers. Said the helicopter had a mini-gun and was blazing away all the way in. Maybe you know the helicopter. He said it was most scared he had ever been in his life.

    The back side of a mini gun is that last place I’d ever be scared!  Those things are awe inspiring!

    • #27
  28. Boss Mongo Member
    Boss Mongo
    @BossMongo

    JimGoneWild (View Comment):
    I worked with a guy, a Ranger EM, who went into combat in Panama riding on the skid(?) of a special ops helicopter with 3 other Rangers. Said the helicopter had a mini-gun and was blazing away all the way in.

    Yeah, the AH6 little bird.  They call it going in on the skids because you plant your butt in the aircraft and put your feet on the landing skids.  Ima tell you what, those insane pilots will have you riding the skids and push down into first-floor elevation with their rotors clearing about three inches on each side.  Those pilots are insane. God bless them.

    • #28
  29. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Boss Mongo (View Comment):
    Yeah, the AH6 little bird.

    The Killer Egg.

    Never worked on those.

    • #29
  30. Gazpacho Grande' Coolidge
    Gazpacho Grande'
    @ChrisCampion

    Thanks for the link, Boss.  Great read.  Reminds me not to be such a puss and stop complaining and put whatever stresses I have in perspective.

    The catchphrase that’s been with me for a few months now is “Nothing’s easy”, which is completely unrelated to virus stuff.  It encapsulates the idea that nothing worth having is easy, which is that phrase, just fleshed out.

    Family.  Job.  Cleaning the microwave this morning.  Prepping to submit a fence replacement proposal with my HOA this weekend, and advising my neighbors of my nefarious intent to do so.  Cleaning the damn catbox every morning.

    All that is just stuff that needs to get done, some of it easy/zero time, some of it much more involved and out of my normal day to day stuff.  But all of it is a part of Family, which means doing the work and the zillion things that create the space for us to live, and our girls to have a safe and happy 4-5 more years before they’re both off to (probably) college and that time will zip by in a flash.

    Nothing’s easy.  It’s not supposed to be easy.  So don’t worry about it, level set your expectations, and get to work.  

    PS:  Oh, and don’t forget your 10 mile run tomorrow morning.  Because nothing’s easy.

    • #30