Remembering the Fallen

“C-130 rollin’ down the strip, Airborne Ranger’s gonna take a little trip. Mission Top Secret destination unknown; he don’t know if he’s ever comin’ home.” – Author’s recollection of a Jody call from many years ago

Everyone knows that military training is dangerous. When we raise our hands to take the oath, we know what can happen. Ranger training can be particularly hazardous; last week, it claimed two more victims.

According to information published by The Hill, two Ranger candidates have been killed during a training exercise in Georgia. Both men, SSG George Taber, 30, and 2LT Evan Fitzgibbon, 23, died after being struck by a falling tree on August 9th on Yonah mountain.

Due to the sudden shift in the weather in the mountainous training area, the National Weather Service issued a severe thunderstorm warning from 3:00 PM to 3:45. They warned that wind speeds could reach 60 miles per hour, which could be combined with quarter-sized hail.

A press release from the US Army Maneuver Center of Excellence noted that three other Ranger candidates were non-fatally injured by the same falling tree. This occurred about 3:15 PM local time as the men sought shelter during a training hold necessitated by inclement weather. All of the injured were taken to a nearby hospital, where Fitzgibbon and Taber were pronounced dead.

Major General Curtis A. Buzzard, Commanding General of Fort Benning, told the press, “We are all deeply saddened by the loss of these two outstanding Soldiers and send our heartfelt condolences
to their families. They are in our thoughts and prayers.” 

The Stars and Stripes tells us through Army spokesman Michael Negard that a safety investigation has been launched by a team from the Army Combat Readiness Center at Fort Rucker. This is standard practice in these types of incidents.

The deaths come on the heels of another weather-related training fatality in Georgia. The Washington Times reported on the death of 41-year-old Sergeant First Class Michael D. Clark from a lightning strike on July 22nd, 2022, at Fort Gordon. Eight other soldiers were injured in the storm and required medical attention.

Fitzgibbon and Taber

Evan Fitzgibbon was an 11A Infantry Officer assigned to the Infantry Basic Officer Leader Course (199th Leader Brigade at Fort Benning, GA). He was a 2021 graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point and was engaged to be married. Following his acceptance into West Point 5 years ago, he told, “I know what to expect, but I don’t know what God has planned for me there. But the main thing that I hope to accomplish is to just be developed into the best leader that I can be.” At the time of his death, he was well on his way.

LT Fitzgibbon is shown here in a photograph taken from his time at West Point. Screenshot from YouTube.

Taber was a Special Forces Medical Sergeant, 18D, assigned to the 7th Special Forces Group at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. He enlisted on March 14th, 2017.

SSG Taber was a Special Forces medic, the best of the best. He was from Glen St. Mary, Florida. Screenshot from YouTube.

CNN quoted a 2018 Congressional report looking at deaths in the military. They found that “Since 2006 … a total of 16,652 active-duty personnel and mobilized reservists have died while serving in the US armed forces. Seventy-three percent of these casualties occurred under circumstances unrelated to war.” Anyone who has served can attest to how dangerous training can be. Ideally, we train like we fight.

Past Losses

Unfortunately, deaths during Ranger training are nothing new. In a 1995 incident, as told by Bradley Graham at The Washington Post, four Ranger candidates died during the swamp phase in Florida. The men had been in cold swamp water for almost six hours. That is double the time usually allowed during training. The water was supposed to be roughly knee deep, but due to recent heavy rains, it swelled to about chest to neck deep on the men.

Water temperatures were later reported as being 52°F, and the ambient air temperature hovered around 65°F. Multiple candidates had to be medically evacuated due to hypothermia. Two candidates were flown to a medical treatment facility at Eglin Air Force base, where they died. Dense fog then rolled in, grounding air ambulances. Freezing soldiers had to be carried by litter to the nearest road where they could be taken to the closest civilian hospital. One soldier died shortly after arrival. The fourth loss of life came when a soldier was separated from his platoon while crossing a swamp. His body was recovered the next morning in waist-deep water.

Regarding this latest loss of life, Airborne and Ranger Training Brigade Commander Colonel Christopher C. Hammonds stated, through the official Army press release, that “Those who volunteer to attend Ranger School represent the very best of our military. This loss resonates across our Army and across our nation.” 

Rest in peace, gentlemen. Thank you for your service to our great nation.