Ranger School is not easy and is known as the Army’s toughest leadership course. The school is 62 days of suck if you go straight through and even longer if you do not. The Army Ranger Training Battalion describes it as, “A mentally and physically challenging school that develops functional skills directly related to units whose mission is to engage the enemy in close combat and direct fire battle.”
Recently, I had the opportunity to interview a Ranger School graduate. It's always a pleasure to hear from the proverbial horse's mouth what goes on behind the curtain. This soldier graduated from Ranger Class 07-21, and although he wasn’t the honor graduate, he did make it straight through without recycling, which is no small feat. He asked to remain anonymous as he enjoys his privacy like any other red-blooded American. When I asked him to speak generally about how someone passes Ranger School he explained,
“In my opinion, there are two ways to pass Ranger School. The first is to train-up correctly, show up prepared (physically and mentally), and respect and constantly help your squad. With this approach, you will leave Ranger School having made lifelong friendships and obtained new knowledge about yourself and leadership.
The other way to get through is less enjoyable. With the second approach, you show up unprepared and get abused by the course until you figure it out. An example of this is dudes recycling every phase twice and spending 180-days in the course. They did not show up prepared.”
This was something that I was in complete agreement with because when I attended Ranger School in 2019 I saw the same thing. Despite how trivial or obvious it sounds, the soldiers that show up prepared are the ones who adjust to the situations better.
There are always people who complain that they weren’t “properly” prepared for Ranger School because they got their slot a couple days prior to leaving. I have always believed this to be a valid point. The bureaucracy of our nation’s military can cause information and opportunities to move slowly.
When I asked my interviewee how much time he had between getting his slot and leaving for Ranger School, he told me that he had five days, but that he had been trying for years to get a slot. He had done Pre-Ranger Course (PRC) without an actual slot for Ranger School and had made his Ranger train-up program his daily training program. This meant that he did the daily grind of a Ranger train-up program without ever knowing if he would get a slot.
That is when it clicked for me. He knew that the opportunity would eventually present itself, so he kept asking different people. He also knew that he needed to be ready at a moment's notice when the opportunity did arise. He went on to say,
“I think holding yourself to a higher standard is key. Getting ready for Ranger School was not as difficult as I thought it would be because keeping yourself in good shape allows you to just tailor your workouts towards what you’ll be doing in school. Really the key was the small daily disciplines which led to my eventual success. Ranger School is more a selection than an actual "school". Sure you learn some useful things, like how you operate with little to no sleep and food, set up a patrol base and conduct an ambush but not many people can list the tangible things you learn there that you couldn’t learn at your unit. You go to get your tab so that you can separate yourself from your peers. Ranger School and other extremely difficult courses in the military simply try to separate the “special” from the “not so special” or at least the persistent from the weak minded. So while you are getting prepared, take an honest look at yourself and ask yourself, based on what you’re doing, which of those two groups do you fall into.”
I asked him to discuss the Pre-Ranger Course (PRC) and how well they prepared him for Ranger School. He said they prepared him well for what he would have to deal with in Darby Phase, but had no clue what he was getting into in Mountains and Florida Phase.
“Most PRC’s focus on Darby because that is where Ranger School sees the highest attrition. Also, Darby represents the basics of Ranger School and these can be applied throughout the other phases.”
What trips a lot of people up during Ranger School is the pressure that is put on you while you are in a leadership position. Once you pass RAP week, all you need to do is be successful in a leadership position or a “leadership looks” over fifty percent of the time and you will pass the course. When I asked him what was the key to passing those leadership looks he said,
“The biggest thing I saw that contributed to the success of my looks was confidence and building bonds with your squad. In Darby they did not provide much feedback so it was hard to specifically say what made those looks a “go,” but they grade by the book so if you follow the steps they teach you to a tee you’ll be successful. My first go in Mountains was as Security SL with a solid react to contact. The enemy started maneuvering and I was able to keep my squad in the fight by providing effective commands. By being close with your squad you can trust in them to execute your commands. For Florida, during my PSG look I had a rough time controlling the platoon because everyone was dead tired. We had several accountability issues and hit our objective with about 30 seconds to spare for the time hack. However, once the objective was clear, we had a casualty, and I executed a spot-on MEDEVAC for the wounded soldiers, and I was given a go.”
With that being said, his biggest challenge at Ranger School was,
“People. Motivating people to work with you when they are dead tired, it’s not their look, they are having a bad day, etc. This is where building those friendships in the squad is so important so that even when people are struggling, they still work for you because they know you will do the exact same thing for them.”
So if the biggest challenge is getting people who are dead tired to work for you and the key to overcoming that challenge is building strong bonds within your squad, what helped build your team/squad so that you stuck together when it got tough?
“Being open and honest with each other, airing grievances, and working on fixes for them. Finding common interests and talking to each other about them. Basically, building the friendships and team cohesins found across the military. I was fairly close with most people in my squad and very close with a few. I befriended an 18C, a few IBOLC Lieutenants, and a couple of Batt Boys. I still talk to some of them currently, which is a testament for how close we became. The school does a decent job of splitting squads through phases, but the ones that stuck with me through the school we became close. Something about going through tough times really brings people together."
Ranger School isn’t just about being physically ready or knowing the material you're going to use at the course. You need to have your mind straight and be prepared to endure. When you are thrown into an environment, like Ranger School, where you are malnourished, sleep deprived, and physically depleted, your mind will start to play tricks on you. If you know this in advance, you will be better prepared for when it happens. With this knowledge, I asked him what was the biggest thing he did to prepare himself mentally. He stated quite plainly that the advice he received prior to Ranger School was
“It’s only 62 days and once you’re done, you never have to do it again. It is a simplistic way to look at it but taking it one day at a time and splitting up the events throughout the day helped me to work through it. Eventually you find yourself at the end of each phase.”
There’s always room for improvement and with hindsight being 20/20 I wanted to know what’s one thing he wishes he would’ve done to better prepare himself. His response caught me off guard. The one thing he wished he would’ve done to better prepare himself was to do a five mile run or ruck march after being smoked.
“I was initially in Bravo Company for RAP Week, which has notoriously brutal smoke sessions. They messed me up pretty good on the first day and before the five mile run and twelve mile ruck. These smoke sessions reflected in my performance at these events. I added three minutes to my five mile run and finished the ruck march in two hours and fifty five minutes.”
He suggested doing one hundred burpees or two hundred lunges before you do a diagnostic five mile run or twelve mile ruck. This is going to give you a better idea of where you will be at when you complete these milestones at the course.
Since this website focuses on providing soldiers with packing list items, I had to ask what he thought was the most important packing list item. He said without a doubt that it was the two extra pairs of Hot Weather Uniforms.
“Going during the summer it gets ridiculously hot, and the 2 pairs of Hot Weathers Uniforms that are allowed were worn constantly. I may have worn a regular uniform twice.”
When I asked him if he had any final words of advice for future people going through the course, he said,
“For a long time, I put off going because I thought I would not make it through. Don’t get me wrong, the course is difficult but by finding the inner strength and being a team player, you will do just fine. If you have ever wanted to go, GO! It is a very doable course. Accept right now that you are going to suffer, but make the choice that you will not quit. Accept that there is no easy way through Ranger School. The thought of quitting may call to you when you're suffering during your train-up, but ignore it. Your goal is bigger than the present pain.”
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