Editor’s note: The content and photographs in this article are courtesy of Stanton Sharpe. Run your cursor over the photos for captions. For background information on the Free Burma Rangers in Burma and Myanmar, please visit this link.
New Free Burma Ranger teams are routinely field tested on various skills throughout the course of the training. During the final training exercise (FTX), they visit a series of stations scattered in the jungle surrounding the training camp.
The tasks must be completed not using trails and without food or sleep. Besides being an opportunity to practice specific skills, these drills are designed to push the rangers beyond what they think they can do, and teach them to never surrender. They’re encouraged to pray, and ask God’s help as they go. The following is one team’s experience.
Lay Der Htoo is athletic, quiet, and steadfast. Saw Eh Htoo is the stand-out athlete and leader of this team of Karen rangers. Saw Htoo Htoo Wah is reserved, yet gifted and strong. Saw Sher K’paw Moo is the backbone of the team.
Operation Order (OPORD) issued: the exercise includes 25 tasks to be completed in 24 hours.
Hours 1–8: 1830-0230
The first station is a land navigation point consisting of a small marked tree in the jungle, which the team members must find based on map coordinates given in their briefing.
As the team searches each station and performs the specified task required there, it must also provide security and support for each other, and avoid instructors on the prowl. If the rangers are caught by an instructor, they’re disciplined with a physical exercise, like sprinting with barbells on their shoulders.
Out of camp, the moon, stars, and intermittent use of headlamps provide the only light. The jungle is thick, and team members must be aware of the dangers of snakes and other creatures difficult to see in the dark, as well as steep terrain that sometimes turns to outright cliffs.
The team nears where it thinks the point is. Another team is looking for the same coordinates and they join forces on a 45-minute search. Finally, someone spots it. The first station is complete. Each team stands in front of the mark and takes a video as proof they completed the task. It’s taken them 90 minutes to complete the first of 25 stations. The next stop is back at camp for a written test on leadership.
They easily finish the written test. It’s 9:00 p.m. and they begin a night of running around the jungle.
Hours 9–11: 0230-0530
Eight hours into the exercise, they’ve completed a rope-bridge crossing, rappelled down a cliff, taken written tests, and trekked around in search of navigation points. Eleven stations are complete.
The Good Life Club is next. The team spends 30 minutes singing children’s songs, telling a story of God’s love, and teaching a health lesson. With spirits lifted, it carries on.
Next is the search for one of the farthest points on the map. After nearly an hour trudging through the jungle, team members are utterly exhausted and somewhat lost. As the night fades to meet the sunrise, they sit down and take a mental and physical break, resting in silence with their heads in their hands for 10 minutes.
At exactly 10 minutes, Saw Eh Htoo motions them to rise. They search for 30 more minutes before arriving at an abandoned house, where instructors are standing by a fire. There’s a whimper coming from behind the building, and the rangers find a young boy from a nearby village acting as an injured civilian. They carry him to a sheltered position, examine him for injuries, and find a wound on his thigh. They apply a tourniquet and check for head injuries.
Completing the medical station, they set out for their next stop.
Sunlight fills the sky now. The team has completed 13 tasks in 12 hours. The next stations include swimming and self-defense drills.
Hours 12–22: 0530-1530
The team rushes to the river to begin its self-defense test. Stripping down to their shorts, members execute the moves they’ve been taught in training. Once finished, they run to the river. They swim 15 laps upstream and downstream, using a different stroke each time. Successful and soaking wet, they dress and head out to another navigation point far from camp.
By 11:30 a.m., the heat intensifies as the rangers trek up the mountainside, searching for their point. They top out onto a brush-covered hillside, devoid of trees and shade. They push through the heat and shrubbery. After an hour of exhausting trekking, they find the next point.
By the 22nd hour of their exercise, they’ve completed 22 of 25 stations.
Hours 23–25: 1530-1930
Around 4:30 p.m., the team members are chasing down the 23rd station, and the terrain is difficult. They arrive at a waterfall, with the coordinates suggesting that the point lies above the waterfall. The team scales the cliff only to find a second waterfall above. They follow the stream up a narrow path through a wall of rock, finally reaching the point beside yet another waterfall.
Returning to camp for their final written test, the rangers spot the final land navigation point. They know they must first complete their written test before recording this final point. Though the idea of trekking back out is daunting, knowing where it is helps.
The final written test takes an hour. By the time they’re done, the sun has set and cool air fills the jungle. They head out to the last point, motivated by the fact that they are less than an hour away from finishing the exercise. When they arrive at the final station, everyone celebrates with hugs and high fives.
Training Goes On
This team is one hour over time, completing the exercises in 25 hours. But they’re the first team of basic students finished. Some teams will take another five hours—and some won’t finish at all.
The team stays humble, knowing they’ve excelled but that the tests will only get harder. They have the next day to recover, as it’s Sunday and set aside as a day of rest and worship. On Monday, follow-on training resumes with the 0530 whistle on the drill field.