There are times when people associate too closely to their title. Some law enforcers, and stock brokers, and politicians, and “God Damn Army Rangers.” People who welcome questions like, “So what do you do for a living”? We all know people who like the idea that they’re special. If life was handing out gold stars, they’d have theirs plastered on their back window in reflective vinyl.
You know those vehicles that make women wonder if the driver is compensating for something as they pass. I used to drive one of those pimp-sleds, without the stickers of course. It was glorious; I was a tabbed NCO in the greatest fighting force on the face of this planet. The world was at my fingertips. It was fire engine red and usually emitted shades of Skynryd. It had 38 inch Mickey Thompsons and dropped transmissions like Donald Trump dropped divorce paperwork or the news of impending bankruptcy. This was “back when it was hard,” as they say.
It feels good to be a member of an elite group sometimes. It feels good to wander into breakfast and hear the silent whispers of momentary grandeur as people try to figure out what your patches are for or what color your beret is. It feels good to know that you are not as ordinary as the yellowing walls of the smoke filled waffle houses in nearby Columbus, GA.
There has been a lot talk as to what Ranger School means lately. As to what kind of message they are sending to the world. There’s online debate about legacies and standards. Most comments are uninformed. They by in large bring discredit upon anyone associated with “Rangers” whether it be for TRADOC Rangers, or the ones from behind the fence.
The two women who graduated Ranger School last week deserve every bit of praise they are given. Before we descend into our own egos on social media let us remember that they have bigger “balls” than most of the internet tough guys who make the comments we read. For those of us who continue to live by a creed that includes “of my Ranger Regiment” entering this debate doesn’t benefit us. There is no valor to defend or standard to uphold. We are forgetting that if the tab didn’t say “Ranger” we wouldn’t attend.
As a tab-less Spec-4, in the Ranger Regiment, I once told my Platoon Sergeant that If I made it to combat before I made to Ranger School I would decline going. I explained that although I wanted a tab, it was for no better reason than to be cool. I just didn’t see how it benefited me as a medic. In my mind, I was a paramedic and had passed my version of qualification, to be a contributor. After all I wasn’t an infantryman and I had no desire to be.
He agreed. He then told me I needed to go whether I liked it or not. If I wanted the respect of the unit and the men who lived there, then I would have to endure the rites of passage. He was a social butterfly, and a man who could easily rally 100 Rangers with a wave of his hand. He understood the political dynamics. As one of the only black leaders in the regiment, he understood politics better than I would have ever grasped.
He told me that until I had a tab I wouldn’t have a say. It was a time when combat manifests often eliminated tab-less rangers from missions. Without a tab I simply wouldn’t have a place at the table. Everyone was still chomping at the bit, and the alphas were trying to prove their status as new crops of unlikely recruits poured in. My motivation was never to become a steely eyed killer but instead to be able to tell infantrymen that they could stop with that soft skill shit talk. Although it never shut them up, a ranger who likes to talk shit is a ranger who will never keep his mouth shut. As a medic they wouldn’t get rid of me for not having a tab but I always had a chip on my shoulder without it.
Now I obviously had my own reasons, but in the Ranger Regiment we compete for slots because it facilitates upward mobility within the unit. The tab provides a certain level of trust and acceptance from our cohorts. When I went to Ranger School, I didn’t have a desire to promote out of being a platoon medic, my guys loved me and I loved them. I was always treated very well. I didn’t have to get a tab in order to avoid ammo duty. I didn’t need a tab in order to avoid daily smoke sessions. The infantrymen. They didn’t have it so easy. For them the smoke sessions were horrendous at times. Ranger school for medics provides a unique opportunity for insight.
The tab is a gauge that we all understand but often laughed at. Don’t get me wrong; we have respect for the process but let’s be honest. Ranger School doesn’t teach a soldier to do the things that Army Rangers do, it teaches you to endure. What we learn in Ranger School compared to the duties of an actual Ranger vary intensely. It would be like comparing one of those early 90’s brick cell phones to an Iphone 6. They are both cell phones. That’s about as close as it gets. Ranger School is pseudo-Vietnam War era patrolling, and walking everywhere with the heaviest, most outdated weapons. Not even a damn sling. That’s not exactly how the 75th Ranger Regiment rolled when I was there. Ranger School is simply that: it’s a school.
People talk about a watered down system and speculate about events that occurred in a class which they were not even there for. Opinion is the worst form of communication possible. It requires no real foundation. With that being said, I went to Ranger School. I recycled. I passed eventually. Thereby I feel I am uniquely qualified to spew my judgment on the matter.
I was one of the first bat boys with a combat scroll to enter Ranger School in decades. Some of the Ranger Instructors thought it was cool. Others were peanut butter and jealous. How do I know? I know because they told me. Just prior to routinely smoking the hell out of me and my Ranger Buddy. It was Kanaan, and I and 10 officers in my squad. Two bat boys fresh off a combat tour and ten lieutenants straight out of college. We were like Batman and Robin. It was good to have a friend to help journey through the painful death that is Ranger School in the winter time. It was just a few years back when I started feeling all my toes again.
For anyone that knows me, I’m all about the sham. I’m not above taking the real test as the pre-test and I am not afraid to come in last place as long as the objective is met. I try for a smarter not harder approach. I believe in deconstructing with the goal of expending the least energy possible while still trying to over achieve. There are certain things in Ranger School that simply can’t be faked. I know. I tried. Even a fresh combat tour at the height of those patriotic yellow ribbon days could only get me so far with an RI.
It’s a terrible feeling when your right ass cheek is filled with some mystery antibiotic sludge. The 2 mile buddy run directly following the fresh pin prick of a gamma globulin shot was no fun either. The limp in my leg was decadent. The jump into Fryar Drop Zone with a walk into camp is a long 15 miles. When the hunger pangs start to kick in and you realize you’re still a couple weeks away from a good hot meal, oh ya and your house is only few miles away, it can play with your emotions. The extreme changes in weather that usually occur in Georgia were relentless as well. It was like the sideways rain scene from Forest Gump. It was fucking cold. I’m talking shiver your spine type stuff. I’m from California, I didn’t deal well with that.
A frozen Malvesti obstacle course or a day in the frigid sawdust pits playing watered down jiu-jitsu slash navy seal fight sequences was not where I wanted to be during a time of war. The obstacle courses are long and the buddy carries are heavy. For the skeptics, just for grins, the next time you got a day to kill at home, don’t eat, and physically exert yourself until the lactic acid arrives. When you’re panting like a dog, if you don’t already know it by heart bust out the six stanzas of the Ranger Creed and see if you could recite it. Verbatim of course. Now pretend that not just your dinner, but your caloric and future energy intake depended upon it. That’s what I learned in Darby.
Onto mountains. I once walked Mt. Yonah, twice in one day. It’s a little less than a mile and it takes roughly an hour. It’s pretty steep. Really wakes up the shin splints. For a little malnourished guy like me carrying a winter packing list it was unpleasant at best. On my first attempt I slipped and “fell” down the side of the mountain because my officer “Buddy” (only half the word), gave me a flat tire along the mountain goat trail. My conciliation was a short visit to the voodoo medics. I had to walk it again after a long day of learning to rappel from boulders, a skill I later used again… well… never.
After completing my second attempt for standard, I was still slightly jealous of the guys who failed knot tying just days prior due to frigid fingers. Those guys were in the rear eating blueberry pancakes in the sick bay and I was still carrying around a water logged sleeping bag that I wasn’t allowed to use. Eventually we got to patrols. We walked really steep terrain to conduct “assaults” on “opposition forces” while tired and half asleep. I once heard a Ranger Instructor make a comment about how he had Boy Scouts in his North Georgia chapter that could hit an objective better than us droning survivors. He was probably right.
It was stupid and it was getting colder. I got a “major minus” for wearing a black beanie under my helmet, and I began to wonder if I wanted to keep playing cowboys and terrorists. At that point though there is no turning back, quitting means having to leave battalion. It was just about then when I woke up on the side of the mountain with a thermometer protruding from my anus and the same voodoo doctors. Playing the failed resupply game was catching up to the candidates, me included. It was cool though we won a nights stay in a warm bed and extra MRE.
My second go at mountain was a little better. I recycled into C. company with my good friend Larry Rougle. I walked Yonah again a few days later. My new recycled body which was starting to look a lot like a velociraptor with little arms, poor posture and rock hard legs felt good. It was springtime, the birds were chirping and the scenery was absolutely gorgeous. With a replenished reserve, I shared my MRE’s and made friends. It’s like an episode of Survivor sometimes. It’s better to have allies. And a touch of cocoa powder can go a long way in peer reviews. I finally moved onto Florida. It was best ranger time and I had one shot to pass or I would be stuck as a holdover for 8 weeks until the next cycle started.
The jump into Florida was kanked due to highs winds and I for one was glad. I wasn’t looking to have a freak parachute accident or even a twisted ankle by that point. And after the reptile show, I was paranoid of being bit by snakes. It wasn’t because I cared of my own health at that point but because there was no way is going to be doing area beautification like a slave for crowds of Four Winds patrons while they watched my mountains phase instructors win Best Ranger.
In Florida they have these logs that stick up in the swamp. They call them “damn it sticks”. The movements are riddled with a lack of cohesion both natural and organic. Jungle boots often fail to grasp the swamp floor. As my body fell forward my exclamations of battered knees and shins were often met with laughter that could only be felt through painful empathy. I laughed at them too, it’s how you got through the days. And the fire ants tore through my hands leaving them looking like cellulite and abrasions, or like the way Hillary fills a dress suit.
At the head of the zodiac, a damn alligator jumped in the river right next to me. But that wasn’t shit compare to the water moccasins near the shoreline. People die of hypothermia in Florida too. When temperatures vary by 40 degrees from day to night, the physical tolls begin to mount and it wasn’t uncommon to smell the odor of your muscles eating themselves. My first patrol in Florida, I absolutely killed. I did everything I was supposed too. Then I droned over to my RI review after asking my Ranger Buddy to hold my weapon. He no-go’ed me for not having control of my weapon at arms distance. I thought it was admin time, RI changeover. I thought he was kidding. He wasn’t. I struggled to keep my emotion at bay. I was red with anger.
I then had to wait until the last night of the last day for another opportunity. It was magical when I heard my roster number be called. I drew the movement to the exfil site on the last day. Everyone was done, the people that failed knew they had, they knew they had 8 long weeks of holdover time. And the others, well they shut it off already. It was like prodding cattle to get people to move. I shouted my way to command presence and gave praise wherever I could. I practically begged the guys to walk in formation.
When they pulled us to the side of the road and force fed us some flutter kicks, I thought I was hosed for sure. I figured fuck it, I’ll just PT my ass off like a tab less Ranger would. The RI said I had heart. He laughed at me for “forgetting” my weapon in the days prior and he seemed enamored by Ranger medics. He told me he just finished Black Hawk Down, and I pretended to care. I found out later he was a volunteer firefighter and aspiring medic. He asked me about the lethal triad in shock and had me explain the pathophysiology of shock as it relates to fluid replacement in combat. Didn’t he know I was fucking exhausted and had been up for two days.
Then the light bulb came on. I knew then, he was telling me I was good. I found out later from the front leaning rest position officially. A man in clean BDU’s told us how we were now part of history. Four people from my squad passed in total. Peer reviews, patrols and physical standards play a small part in this course. Success does not depend upon one attribute but instead a totality of the circumstances.
It seemed surreal from the Gator Lounge. Never before had a beer tasted so sweet. Nor had it such a massive effect on me. I drunk dialed my mom, then I called the late great Marcus Muralles. He told me he was proud of me and I told him that I wanted him to pin my combat scroll at my graduation, as my platoon sergeant had already called dibs on pinning my tab. He said he’d be honored. I hung up the phone and puked up my AAFES hotdog and Michelob Amber Bock behind the phone booth. It was glorious– not that I had a tab but because I never had to do it again.