Academic “Ranger School” Fall of 2020

Quick preamble…wrote this post over that last couple days. Please don’t take it the wrong way. This semester is not going to be horrible and I don’t want to scare people away. The intent of this post is keep you motivated and make sure you aren’t overwhelmed if you are a new Cadet navigating what will be an interesting semester. I also wanted to help folks learn a little bit about Ranger School. RLTW

Something I don’t talk a lot about is Ranger School. Most people don’t know that I am the only current member of the program who has completed Ranger School and earned a Ranger Tab. Although I’m proud of the accomplishment, I think any reasonably fit person, with some preparation, and the right mental attitude can complete the course and earn their tab.

Just a kid…2LT Toth graduates from Ranger School

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the US Army Ranger School, it is an elite Army school that trains small unit tactical leadership in a very demanding environment. As a young Infantry Lieutenant, finishing my Infantry Basic Officer Leadership Course (IBOLC) over 30 years ago, it was expected that an Infantry Lieutenant would at least volunteer for the training. Most Infantry Officers either have their tab or a good story why they didn’t make it through the course.

For about the last month now, I have been thinking about how this coming fall semester will go with the pandemic raging, and thinking there might be some lessons learned from Ranger School. Ranger School is not one of those “fun” Army courses that you enjoy. Much of it is a demanding “suckfest”. You do more learning about yourself and your limits (or how to overcome them) than you do learning Army knowledge. Not to scare anyone away, but I suspect this fall semester at college will not be as “fun” as a typical non-pandemic semester would be either. Maybe not a “suckfest”, but challenging none the less.

Let me caveat the rest of this post by saying I completed Ranger School in 1985. To give you some idea how long ago that was, we wore OD green, slant pocket jungle fatigues left over from the Viet Nam era during the course My class was the first, and one of only a handful, to participate in a desert phase conducted at Dugway Proving Grounds in Utah. My thoughts may not reflect the current Ranger school.

Ranger school is divided into 3 phases, a city phase or Benning phase, a Mountain phase, and a swamp phase. Here’s how I think the school year is going to be similar to the way Ranger School plays out.

During the first phase of Ranger School the class is coming together. They are establishing relationships, getting used to the way things work, and learning some baseline knowledge. They aren’t getting a lot of sleep, mealtimes are rushed, and there is some demanding physical training conducted. Most of the testing and evaluations are physical assessments. It’s also the phase with the highest attrition rate.

For our incoming freshmen, with the social distancing it’s going to be similar. Your dorm floor will be like your squad and platoon mates. If you are part of Army ROTC you’ll also have an actual squad and platoon you will associate with. You will all be learning how to operate in a unique environment. You may not be as tired, hungry and stressed as a Ranger School student, but it will be different and you may find yourself outside of your comfort zone. Don’t be discouraged.

The second phase of Ranger School is the mountain phase. In this phase there is more technical learning and evaluation (a knot test and mountaineering knowledge). The leadership evaluations start falling into the standard small unit infantry tactic framework. The squads are starting to work together and use their strengths to complete their patrols. Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). are beginning to become established.

For our college students, it will be similar. You will be finding your study groups and learning how to access the resources like the learning center and advisors. This semester on line resources will be a key to success. Students will start to get in their class rhythm. They will start to understand what is required for homework and graded assignments and tests. Finding that rhythm and continuing to move forward will be key.

The final phase of Ranger School is the swamp phase conducted in Florida. During this phase there is some learning done at the start (reptile class, survival training, waterborne training) and then it’s patrolling. Most days and nights you are spending a lot of time wet (and hungry and tired). It’s the final phase and you are trying to pass your evaluations and help your peers do the same. You can “smell the barn”, and you are motivated to get done.

I imagine October and November on our college campus will be much the same (hopefully except for the tired, wet and cold). The students will be finishing up project and pushing to get done with finals. They will “smell the barn”, but will have to finish the tasks at hand to see the finish line.

So, what’s the point of this blog post? The way I see it this semester won’t be as fun as most. There will be challenges and the need to put your head down and push through the hardships. Just as in Ranger School there will come a day when you question why you are doing it, and whether it will be easier to quit. Hopefully you will reach out to your support structure and get the help to keep pushing forward. And just as in Ranger School you’ll need to keep your eye on the prize.

You won’t be earning a Tab this semester, but you will be one step closer to achieving your goal of graduating and hopefully earning a commission and going on to lead soldiers. And you’ll have some great “war stories” to tell.

Good luck this semester!!

PS….doing a little research for this post allowed me to reminisce about my time at Fort Benning and Ranger school. Here’s a good series of videos if you are thinking you want to attend US Army Ranger school some day

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