There I was, a brand new E-2 in 3rd Ranger Battalion. I had been there maybe two months when the Battalion Sergeant Major told our Company First Sergeant that A/co was not sending enough of our guys to Ranger School. We were light on tabbed Spec-4s at the time. So, in accordance with the Sergeant Major’s wishes, all the non-tabbed enlisted men in the company were sent to Peden Field to take a PT test.
The top performers would get to go to pre-Ranger and then Ranger School. I was probably the most cherry guy in the company at that time and was no stellar performer as I had already racked up a summarized Article 15, but everyone without a tab had to go take the PT test. I was a 19 years old at the time and being super motivated helped make up for my lack of job competence. I maxed out the PT test and by decree, was then sent to Regimental pre-Ranger.
Holy shit, did that suck. My ordeal there was even worse by virtue of the fact that I had no idea what I was doing. Having only been in Ranger Battalion for a few months, I was tactically inept and had zero leadership abilities. I was a good Private despite the occasional fuck ups, but that was about it. I certainly wasn’t ready for what has been called the hardest school in the Army. As you can imagine, I struggled through Ranger School. I got recycled in Darby Phase because the ink on my map sheet bled when it got wet in the rain. I had the correct hole punch, proving that I had found my point on the Land Nav course, but the number of the point that I had wrote down was illegible. “At this time you are a no-go at this station Ranger.” FML.
I got to recycle but had to wait until the next class started after Christmas exodus. I think RTB kept us around just so they had some scrubs on hand to do details. Waxing and buffing floors, trash details, polishing brass door knobs (seriously) and that sort of thing. The hold-over/recycle platoon was called Vaghn’s Platoon, but I figured that I was there so long that they should have renamed it Murphy’s platoon.
While there, an RI caught us stashing Playboys in a monopoly board game box in the barracks. He kept screaming at us for violating the rules and while chewing our ass he would say things like, “why did you have pornographical materials in the barracks?!” “You know you are not supposed to have pornographical materials!” “Pornographical materials are against RTB rules as clearly stated in blah, blah, blah.” I thought it was hilarious that he kept repeating the word “pornographical.” When the RI caught me smiling he smoked the whole platoon.
Anyway, we did get two weeks of Christmas exodus. When we came back I started up Ranger School again and soon found myself patrolling the forests of Ft. Benning. In Darby Phase you are graded on squad-based patrols. Some RIs are very professional and do a great job at teaching, coaching, and mentoring. But they are also evaluating you and it isn’t their job to bake you cupcakes and give you attaboys. Well, except for this one abnormality called “The Golden Patrol.” The Golden Patrol is sort of a myth and legend. It goes like this: a Ranger Instructor has been assigned to Ranger School for several years, and before he gets re-assigned somewhere else, probably back in the Infantry, he will do something special on the final patrol he grades.
I kind of thought it was bullshit, and the notion was the furthest thing from my mind. Like I said, I was motivated but clueless when it came to patrols. I knew it and was sure I was fucked, but as per the Ranger Creed I wasn’t allowed to quit. I’d give my best effort in the meantime.
One morning a new RI comes on duty to grade my squad on their patrols. My name gets called for a team leader position; in other words, I’m in the hot seat and will be graded today. If I fail, I’ll probably recycle again. That or get kicked out of the school entirely. Our patrol moved out in a wedge formation and maybe got 100 meters before our new RI started throwing artillery simulators. They whistle and then go bang like fireworks do. Whenever a Ranger patrol comes under indirect fire they have to conduct a battle drill called, you guessed it, “react to indirect fire.” You hit the ground until the simulated fire explodes, then get up and haul ass as fast as you can to get out of the killzone. Note: this is difficult to do while carrying a hundred pounds of gear. You have to keep running and bounding until you reach a covered and concealed position. Whenever we did, our patrol would then get hit with another arty sim from the RI.
Man, that must have gone on for a couple klicks at least. Our squad was completely fucking smoked.
Our RI saw how we were dragging ass and generally looking like a bunch of weeping vaginas. He told us to stop and gather around. We were going admin to do a mid-patrol AAR, something that never happens. He had us line up in a half circle around him. I remember looking at the faces of all the guys in the Squad. Man, we looked like a bunch of blowjobs that day. The RI asks us how we think the patrol is going so far. He directly asks each of us one at a time, going down the line.
I answered the same as everyone else, our patrol looked like shit.
“You’re right,” the RI said. “This patrol does look like shit.”
We all stood in shameful silence.
“But I don’t give a fuck because this is my last patrol and all of you are getting Gos.”
This woke me up out of my low-glucose coma. Say what? This must be one of those Ranger School hallucinations you hear about.
The RI then drops his ruck, opens it up and starts handing out food. Snickers bars, sandwiches, sodas, the works. I was still wondering if this was real as I shoved a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in my mouth. Our RI then tells us how this is going to work. We’re going to build a campfire and hang out and eat food. When the hit time comes for our ambush, we will simply walk up and occupy our ambush site, expend as much blank ammunition as we can on our OPFOR, finger drill the rest of the ambush, and then come back and enjoy the camp fire.
And that’s exactly what we did. I thanked our RI for a job well done and wished him luck in his future endeavors. I had a Go for my graded patrol and would be moving on to Mountain Phase of Ranger School.
Mountain Phase absolutely sucked. I struggled through it. I got a no-go on my first graded patrol there. That RI from Mountains ended up working down the hall from me in 5th Special Forces Group years later when he was on the dive team and I was on the HALO team. Outstanding soldier in every way, that bastard. He spent about 40 minutes after the patrol professionally walking me through my patrol and how to improve for next time, which really left an impression on me. I managed to get a Go on my second patrol in Mountains and then moved on to Florida Phase. I was so exhausted at that point that I don’t remember a lot of what happened down there. We jumped in and I do remember landing on a cactus.
So there it is folks, it’s no myth. The Golden Patrol is the real deal. I know that for a fact!
Addendum: One of the guys on my Ranger School squad was an E-7 from 1st Special Forces Group. He took me under his wing in a lot of ways and showed me the right way to do things. That’s why I went to SFAS in 2005 after my second deployment with Ranger Battalion. Also in my Ranger School class was a 7th SFG Sergeant and a 5th Special Forces Group Sergeant who made honor grad.
When I showed up at the Q-Course, the 5th Group honor grad was an instructor at the Small Unit Tactics course and recognized me right off the bat. A few months later I got sent to the E-5 promotion board while still in the Q-Course. One of the Sergeants on the panel was the Puerto Rican 7th SFG Sergeant that I had gone to Ranger School with. When I was called in to the board for review they had me do some facing movements, then told me to have a seat. The 7th Group NCO then dropped his Special Forces coin on the table. I stood up and dropped my 3/75 coin on the table. He then said, “That’s it, you’re done Murphy. Get out of here.”
The Golden Patrol was the gift that kept on giving, I guess.