Yeah, a lot of that going around apparently.  According to Ft. Benning’s newspaper, The Bayonet, Ranger School is struggling to fill its openings for Army Sergeants.  This is surprising, as Ranger School was essentially established to train Army NCOs in infantry tactics and leadership before sending them back to mother Army.  In this way, their new skill sets would diffuse amongst soldiers throughout the entire military.

The Bayonet is now reporting that Ranger School is experiencing a deficit of over 80% for the number of NCO’s who should be attending, a number that is only expected to grow.

Ranger School is regarded by many to be the Army’s toughest training course.  “Not for the Weak or Fainthearted”, as the sign says as you approach Camp Darby at Ft. Benning, Georgia.  Wearing the gold and black Ranger Tab on your uniform is a point of pride, an indication that you met the Ranger standard, leading patrols through mangrove swamps in Florida and the Appalachian mountains in Dahlonega, Georgia.  All patrols must receive a passing grade while under the diligent supervision of Ranger Instructors, or RI’s.

So why doesn’t anyone want to go to Ranger School?

For one, 10+ years of war have taken their toll.  If you were a young Sergeant who just got back from a year long deployment (almost certainly not your first), how would you go about explaining to your equally young wife and children that you are going to disappear for another two months to attend a school that they could care less about?  The training might be important, but that doesn’t make it any easier on a family that hasn’t seen you for 12 months.

Many Sergeants have now experienced war up close and personal.  Why do they need to go to a notoriously difficult and challenging training course between actual combat deployments to receive “combat” training?  I know that Ranger School has taken steps to keep up with the times and conduct training that is current and relevant to the modern battlefield (and I believe it is, as I will get to in a moment), but I wonder how many Sergeants are slapping a combat patch on their right shoulder and calling it a day?

Also, I think that quotas really disenfranchise soldiers and turn them off to what is otherwise invaluable training.  I know, I know, Ranger School doesn’t have quotas.  Okay, now let’s be real.  There are quotas.  Everyone knows that if you end up in the back of the line during the PT test the first day that you are toast.  The RI’s have filled their quota and are looking to cut the guys towards the back of the line.  I remember when I had my PT test and the RI stood there looking down at me counting my pushups, “Zero, zero, zero, zero, one, zero, zero, zero, two, zero…”  I had to do something like a hundred push ups when the standard was actually fifty.  No use in complaining about it of course.  Man up and get it done, but I think that Sergeants who hear these stories from their peers (and they do) get turned off to Ranger School.

So why should you go to Ranger School?  In my case, it was mandatory, Rangers in the 75th Ranger Regiment have to graduate if they ever want to have a leadership position.  We were told that we had two years in Ranger Battalion, and after that we either had a Ranger tab or we would be Released for Standards.  That said, I do believe in the importance of the training that is done at Ranger School.

Ranger School teaches basic infantry tasks and tactics, students conduct battle drills, ambushes, and raids until these maneuvers are deeply ingrained in the individual soldier.  Over time, these actions become as natural as eating food.  You don’t think about cutting your food, stabbing it with a fork, and putting it in your mouth.  A graduate of Ranger School can never really forget how to lay in an ambush or conduct a react to contact drill, they are too thoroughly trained.  This is training in a classical sense; There are no short cuts or easy answers.  Students have to do the work.

Another night in Iraq with the 75th Ranger Regiment

“We are losing the discipline of rehearsals, Pre-Combat Checks and Pre-Combat Inspections undefined common core NCO tasks the school teaches and reinforces undefined because we don’t have the guys coming to the course,” says Command Sergeant Major Dennis Smith, the Ranger Training Brigade’s current Sergeant Major.  Ranger School instills the need for doing things the right way and teaches soldiers the discipline they need to survive in combat.

There isn’t always a direct correlation; The objectives at Ranger School don’t look like the objectives you hit in Iraq.  This is what you have to understand: The Army can teach you tactics, but as a Squad Leader, it is your job to adjust those tactics and adapt them to your environment.  The raids I did in Iraq with the 75th Ranger Regiment were vastly different from the training I received in Ranger School, but at the end of the day, all the tactics we used in combat were simply variations of the raids we did in Florida Phase of Ranger School.

I was in Ranger Battalion and in Special Forces.  I went to HALO school, attended the high-speed civilian driving and shooting schools.  They were fun, but not nearly as important as the basic Infantry tactics that you learn in Ranger School.  Mastering the basics is far more important for soldiering than the fun training that you see on television or in the movies.  Enlisted and Junior NCO’s should be fighting each other hand over feet for a Ranger School slot.

No, I don’t think that a Ranger tab is the end all be all.  Neither is a combat badge.  For a lot of folks, it is a five-letter fashion statement on their uniform and that’s the wrong answer.  It doesn’t make you better than anyone else, it makes you better trained, and when things get ugly in combat fellow soldiers are going to be looking to you for a decision.

Think about it.