Ranger School. “The School of all Schools.” “Not For the Weak or Fainthearted.” “But what about Special Forces? FUCK SPECIAL FORCES!” There are so many articles, listicles, memes, ridiculous videos, and social media rants over the subject that it has essentially been beaten and stabbed to death, resurrected by the Red Woman, involved in an ill-conceived love affair with its aunt and burned alive by a dragon.
Well…. you get the idea.
Having said all that, there is still ONE perspective that I have not seen covered, and that is the experience of the brand-new officer, or officers in general as students in the course.
Yes, that’s right. Everyone’s favorite person: the 23-year old Second Lieutenant, full of piss and vinegar and enthusiasm, but none of the experience even a PFC would have after a few months in a combat unit. They are not the most useful person to have in your squad in terms of raw experience, but they can be quite useful if their energy is pointed in the right direction. How do I know? Because I was that 23-year old butter bar, and I learned a great many lessons while I navigated the 61-day course. Lessons that perhaps a future officer will find useful, or might shed some light onto what the officer brings to the table for our enlisted counterparts (yes, I know, that statement excites you NCOs out there).
So, this article is meant to educate a young officer on what to expect from their time in Ranger School, and how to leverage their strengths and minimize their weaknesses in order to graduate (ideally on time) and the more important part: helping your battle buddies graduate.
1. Be in really good shape
This may sound initially sound silly, but it’s the foundation for which all your success in the course will emanate from. If you did not know, Ranger School is an intensely physical experience. It is purposefully so, designed to put the students into the absolute worst, most shitty, awful conditions, and force them to carry out tasks and missions that require teamwork and leadership. The tasks themselves are not complicated on their own. In fact, it is all fairly simple. But when you have over 100 pounds of gear weighing you down, you have lost 25 pounds from caloric deficit you’ve been running for weeks, you haven’t gotten more than 30 minutes of sleep in days, even the simplest tasks you must perform with another person can turn nightmarish in their complexity.
The best way to prepare yourself for the suckfest that these simple tasks will create at 0300 in the morning as you attempt to establish a patrol base for the third time, is to be in disgustingly good shape. If you’re physically fit, you won’t have to worry about carrying more than your share of the load, or volunteering to go on the leader’s recon, or volunteering to be the point man again. If you’re fit, the physical aspects will not be concerning to you, you can instead focus on helping your teammates pass their patrols and stay focused on the mission.
This will pay big dividends when it comes time for your peers to rate you at the conclusion of each phase. Ranger School has a notorious peer ranking system, which is either a blessing or a curse depending on how it affected you. Basically, each member of the squad is allowed to confidentially rank every other member of the squad, from 1 to 12. The guy at number 1 is the stud, Johnny on the spot, the guy that carried you through your patrol and got you that “Go.” Number 12 is a shithead. The guy that’s slow, stupid, and falls asleep at the slightest provocation when you needed everyone pulling security to remain alert. The Ranger Instructors will take everyone’s peer reports, and average the rankings. In general, the system is pretty effective. Although I know of a few horror stories, the system is generally fair, and if a guy is a real shithead and hasn’t been pulling his weight, his ratings will reflect. Get enough low peer ratings, and you are dropped from the course, sometimes never to return. This will not be an issue if you’re a team player, and that starts with being fit.
2. Be a honey badger
You, young Second Lieutenant, you do not know shit. Yeah, you may know some stuff about patrolling and setting up an ambush from the Infantry Officer Course, but let’s just be honest with each other for a second and recognize that you really don’t have a clue about what it means being in a combat unit and running missions.
The good news is, that’s OK. Just embrace it. NCOs and enlisted members know this (or should anyway), so you don’t have to pretend like you do.
But you DO have to be aggressive. You have to be approach every task like the Honey Badger: through brute force and ignorance. Volunteer for every shitty task that comes up. Offer to carry the heavy shit at every opportunity. Run everywhere, be enthusiastic. The skills you don’t have from being in the Army like your enlisted peers can be made up for in this way. When you are in a leadership position, don’t plan on going to sleep. Just keep moving around making sure people are doing what they are supposed to be doing. The Honey Badger don’t give a shit, and neither should you.
3. Do officer stuff
A large part of Ranger School is mission planning. You will have to give meticulous, hours-long operations orders that have to follow the Ranger Handbook exactly. If you miss details, the Ranger Instructors will notice and your grade will suffer. I do not know what the train-up for PFC’s and SPC’s is like in the Ranger Regiment, but from my own personal observations, this part of the course is not their strong suit.
But you, young Second Lieutenant, have given these types of orders before. This is one of your few tangible skills. DO NOT let a PFC take charge of preparing or briefing an OPORD while you bravely volunteer to be the terrain model guy. Part of the whole “being an officer” thing is that more is expected of you, you have more responsibility. And while no one wears rank while they are a student, the instructors will know and eventually your peers will figure it out, a great time to show that is by operating with that mindset here.
One effective way my squad split responsibilities during the mission planning phase was by having some of the officers prepare the briefing, while some of the enlisted guys did stuff like PCCs/PCI’s and the more hands-on ‘NCO-type’ stuff. This wasn’t always the case, as my one “No-Go” in Darby was while I was a Team Leader and failed to properly account for my squad’s ammunition. But that general division of labor worked quite well.
To be continued in Part II.
Featured image courtesy of the Department of Defense