With the Army issuing a press release to announce a new Discovery Channel Special called Hell and Back, Special Ops Ranger, there was one curious factoid published with it that left many of us in the Ranger community taken aback. The documentary follows a class of prospective Rangers through RASP, the Ranger Assessment and Selection Program which is a pre-requisite for serving in the 75th Ranger Regiment.
The Ranger Regiment is known to maintain tough standards in regards to everything from physical appearance, to maintenance of equipment, and most importantly, performance in combat and job competency. These standards are enforced, violators are shown the door and Released For Standards but more critical than that, these non-performers are usually never allowed through the door to begin with, they are weeded out during the selection process which historically only has a 30% graduation rate.
This is why we were shocked when the Army press released stated, “114 Soldiers started Class 5-12; 91 Rangers graduated.” This is a shockingly high graduation rate of about 80% as opposed to the historical 30% that pass RASP and before that RIP. These graduation rates signify is massive drop in the physical and/or academic standards that RASP students are being held too in order to move on to a Ranger Battalion.
When questioned about this disturbing trend the Ranger Regiment’s Public Affairs Officer wrote, “The standards are the same. This happened to be a class full of studs and Soldiers determined not to fail on camera.”
This statement however does not pass the most cursory amount of scrutiny. An entire class of rare physical specimens is a laughable impossibility to anyone who has spent any amount of time in these selection programs. Perhaps some students were hesitant to quit in front of the camera but the presence of a camera does not magically grant RASP students with the ability to knock out an additional fifty pushups on the PT test or allow them to ruckmarch 12 miles any faster than usual.
There is also a robust Pre-RASP program that we did not have back when we went to RIP. This is a great addition to help prepare soldiers for selection but even the best preparatory program would increase the graduation rates by perhaps 5% or 10% on the very high end. Pre-RASP does not explain an alarming 80% graduation rate.
Several years ago the Ranger Indoctrination Program was updated from three weeks to eight weeks when it turned into RASP, a much needed change considering the increased level of professionalization that has occurred in the Ranger Regiment during the War on Terror. Former and active duty Rangers applauded the new changes and standards were maintained with graduation rates as low as 24%.
Something changed with RASP class 5-12. In the class that the Discovery Channel filmed, 20 RASP students failed Land Nav and still graduated. 7 students were caught drinking and still graduated. A student received 90% negative peer reviews and still graduated. Since class 5-12, graduation rates have continued to be abnormally high with upwards to 130 students graduating per class.
After being held accountable to standards and enforcing them as well, these numbers leave many current and former Rangers embarrassed, disgusted, and ashamed.
Why are standards being lowered in order to increase the number of Soldiers who graduate RASP? The presence of the Discovery Channel may have influenced the RASP cadre and the Officers appointed over them to “take it easy” on the students for the sake of Public Relations and political correctness.
It could be that recent organizational changes within SOCOM are driving leaders to want the Regiment at full capacity so that everything looks good on paper.
Something also happened amongst the RASP cadre that now has them walking on egg shells but the real reasons for the decrease in standards can only be speculated upon at this time, what we do know is that they are in fact decreasing. While the Regiment’s PAO is bragging about how high their graduation rates are, as if it validates new training techniques, those of us who served know what is really happening behind the scenes and it is a travesty that will take years to recover from.
Some will argue with with the Regiment’s increased optempo that it is necessary to lower standards to get more Rangers into the Regiment but this is short sighted and fails to consider the number of seasoned NCO’s who will notice the lack of accountability and lowered standards. They will then lose these Sergeants as they decide to go to Special Forces or Delta selection. Others will simply leave the Army for jobs in the private sector.
Many outsiders will ask why it is important to maintain standards during the Ranger Assessment and Selection Program.
First and foremost is combat readiness. Not all soldiers are mentally and physically able to perform the challenging mission profile that the Ranger Regiment has. This is why Soldiers need to be carefully screened to ensure that they are trainable, mentally sound, and physically fit.
Yes, you can train a Soldier to do more push ups, but giving him the high levels of drive and motivation needed to attain the high levels of physical fitness required is another matter. Other Soldiers do not possess the maturity and mental toughness that they will have to display in training and while deployed to war zones.
Also, some soldiers simply cannot be trained. This will be covered in a moment.
When the threshold that Soldiers must pass to be allowed entry into the Ranger Regiment is lowered, sub-standard performers get into the ranks and cause nearly irreparable damage to the unit. Combat readiness suffers, Team Leaders and Squad Leaders now have to worry about things they never had to worry about before. With an even greater than usual level of supervision needed, their minds are taken off the mission and diverted to policing up Soldiers who refuse to do their jobs.
Standards, not Quotas
It is sad to see that the Army still plays the numbers game. Someone, somewhere, wants their quotas and thinks that opening the flood gates and putting a bunch of warm bodies in formation solves their problem by making the unit look like it is at full strength on paper. The reality is that they have made it weaker than ever before.
When Army leaders decrease the standards to meet quotas they pass the buck down to their junior NCO’s who are now burdened with the additional responsibility of dealing with unqualified Soldiers that like it or not, they will have to deploy to combat with.
The beauty of the Ranger Regiment is that it is largely self correcting. Squad Leaders will quickly build packets on the non-performers and have them Released For Standards. Over a dozen RASP graduates from class 5-12 are already being or have been RFS’ed but it will take years for NCO’s to shovel all of the dead weight out the door.
In the meantime they are stuck with sub-standard Privates who have no business being in the Regiment to begin with. When these Soldiers deploy to Afghanistan and get themselves killed, or get someone else killed, who is responsible for that when everyone knew that they should never had been allowed into the unit in the first place?
Allowing these Soldiers into the Regiment also destroys the high espirt de corp of the unit. Now multiple fronts have been opened within the ranks. There are those who met the standard and belong in the 75th and there are those who did not meet the standard.
Everyone knows this and this fact creates havoc for morale and unit cohesion. You also have to think about these new RASP graduates, many of whom are good Soldiers. They never had the chance to meet the same standards as their peers, they were cheated out of that opportunity through no fault of their own. They too will suffer the consequences.
Screwing up…over and over again
The 75th Ranger Regiment should learn from past mistakes, including those made by others in the Special Operations community. After 9/11 Special Forces came under pressure (more like orders) to increase in size.
There was a sudden demand for Special Forces Soldiers and their unique Unconventional Warfare capabilities. The 18X-Ray program was initiated, allowing young men straight out of High School to attend the Special Forces Assessment and Selection Program. Previously, Soldiers had to have service elsewhere in the Army, they had to do some growing up before applying for Special Forces where they would be expected to have more maturity and autonomy, often in challenging situations in third world countries.
This decision changed the face of Special Forces forever. This does not mean that all 18X-Rays are bad (one writes for this website) as some outstanding young men joined the ranks of Special Forces. However, it also allowed some very, very young and immature Soldiers to become Green Berets. When this happens,
Team Sergeants can no longer count on things getting done without his supervision. It changes the entire mentality of the unit. When this happens, an unconventional warfare unit becomes very conventional in how it trains and fights.
Nothing Special about Special Operations
It was explained to this author that although the 18X-Ray program might have been a failure, a Soldier who does his job only half of the time is a lot better than a Soldier who does his job none of the time because he isn’t there, he is not even on your team because he never would have passed the harsh selection criteria for entry.
This logic is flawed, and the Ranger Regiment should take note of it. That Soldier who only does his job 50% of the time is breaking things the other 50% of the time and dragging the unit down with him. Most small unit leaders that I know and have worked with would rather have four guys on their team who know what they are doing than nine guys who are lost in the sauce.
The Regiment should also learn from it’s own recent history. Back around 2005 and 2006 the standards in RIP (the predecessor to RASP) were lowered. This brought the Squads to full capacity on Soldiers but made life even more difficult rather than making it easier.
Blood on Our Hands
Let me explain why I feel so strongly about this. In 2005 I was deployed along with my platoon to Mosul with 3rd Ranger Battalion. We had a kid in our platoon that I will call PFC A. Everyone in his Squad knew that he was worthless as a Ranger and shouldn’t be out there with us. Eventually they shuffled the problem around by passing him off to us in Weapons Squad. He was assigned to man the M240B machine gun mounted in the air guard hatch of one of our Stryker armored vehicles.
During missions he would consistently flag fellow Rangers with the machine gun, running the infra-red laser from the PEQ-2 attached to the gun across our assaulters. He was spoken to and given remedial training but this had no effect.
For reasons that are beyond me he was then moved to man an RWS gun system. This position entails sitting inside the Stryker and manning a control console for the Remote Weapons System on top of the vehicle, in this case a M2 .50 caliber machine gun. It is a lot like playing a video game. You look at a black and white screen and use a joystick to control the movement of the gun.
My Privates trained PFC A to use the RWS system but he was unable to operate the controls. I then trained him myself. He seemed to understand the basics but when we would go out on missions he was unable to operate the joystick.
I would come down into the vehicle to sit beside him and place his hand on the joystick. I would then move his hand back and forth to show him how moving the joystick moves the gun crosshairs on the screen as the RWS platform rotates around. PFC A was unable to accomplish this simple task on his own no matter how many times he was re-trained.
I told my Squad Leader about the problem and emphasized that when this kid got someone killed that the blood would be on our hands because we all knew that this Ranger was unable to do his job but we put him in this position anyway. My Squad Leader agreed and made his voice heard. PFC A was then taken off Weapons Squad and shuffled back to a rifle squad.
A few days later, he froze in the middle of a firefight.
Fellow Rangers ended up playing a game of dodge ball with live frag grenades in the close quarters of an extremely dangerous city. Our men walked away, the enemy didn’t. By the grace of god, PFC A survived but the point I had been trying to make was finally driven home. PFC A made coffee for the Colonel the rest of the deployment and was later kicked out of the unit.
Decreasing the standards for selection criteria is criminally negligent. It needlessly places Ranger’s lives at risk and compromises the mission.
Piss Poor Public Relations
The presence of the Discovery Channel for the filming of a RASP class should not cause the cadre to treat the students with kid gloves. This is not the time to display how nice the Regiment is for the cameras, just the opposite. There should be no apologies for high standards, rigorous training, and challenging selection events, up to and including “smoke sessions”.
No one respects modern America’s current mentality of everyone gets a juice box. The public fully expects that their Special Operations soldiers are subjected to tough training and selection.
The grandmas watching don’t respect some weak ass selection program and neither do the young kids watching and thinking about joining the military.
The message this documentary sends is that if you want a challenge then go to BUD/S. If you want an easy, dumbed down selection process then go to RASP. This may or may not be the reality of the situation but as the Army is so fond of saying, “perception is reality.”
This is the perception that this documentary creates and that perception is going to be America’s reality for years to come.