Ranger School Update

Ranger School is really hard. The Darby phase is still pretty early in the training.
At the end of Darby phase your squad will evaluate your efforts within the squad and someone has to be last, just as someone has to be first. Ranger candidates will explain to RI’s how the members of the squad are when they think no one is looking: This one of the most important parts of Ranger School. It is set up specifically to challenge the weak link and to see if that link strengthens or if it breaks. By the time the RI’s decide your fate at the end of Darby phase, people begin to question their reasons for being there.

This is where people start to miss home, talk about how their families need them or how they have to quit in order to go to combat with their unit. These candidates have yet to walk mount Yonah, pass the knot test, or conquer the nighttime descents of mountaineering. They have yet to enter the copper head inhabited Yellow river of Florida where alligators will swim next to their zodiac or have upward facing tree stumps ravage their legs as their bodies battle hyperthermia. On average, about 45 percent of Ranger School students will graduate.
Yet it is the Darby phase that has defeated all of the female candidates in the one-time trial program to introduce women to Ranger School. Eight of them were recycled, but they have all failed again. Of these, two will be permitted to retry a third time. That sets the maximum success rate for the Darby phase at 10% for the female candidates, if those two manage to do on the third try what they have twice failed to do. And that just gets them to the Mountain phase at Frank D. Merrill.

The Havok Journal celebrates this, not out of disdain for the women, but because it means the standards have not been lowered. High standards in an elite combat unit save lives on the battlefield.

Others feel otherwise.
But there is another opinion quietly being voiced as well: that Ranger School is more akin to a rite of passage – an opportunity for men to “thump their chest,” as one Ranger puts it – than a realistic preparation for leading in war. That women can actually make Ranger units more effective. And that the standards that keep them out are outdated....

The question, he adds, is: Are these standards a fair measure of the challenges of combat?

Dempsey recalls being in violent Kunar province in Afghanistan and hiking up to the rugged Pakistan border. Along for the mission was a male first sergeant who was also a Ranger-tabbed Golden Gloves boxer. The unit had to stop for the first sergeant because he needed to rest during the strenuous march.

“No one’s going to say that the first sergeant is a deadbeat. We need him, and we’re just going to take a break.”

On other occasions, he adds, the combat patrols would simply make the decision not to bring along their heavy packs.

“The equipment we carry is just insane,” Amerine says. “We all have back injuries at the end of our careers.”

The No. 1 Department of Veterans Affairs claim – made by 58 percent of all claimants – is muscular-skeletal injuries.

“If we really are serious about integrating the force, the equipment we carry is going to be one of the things we have to have a hard conversation about,” Amerine says. “It’s in our grasp technologically to make things a lot lighter.”
That doesn't sound like an argument that the standard is outdated, but that until we make huge changes in how we outfit our troops the standard points to a very real issue. If it's already a huge problem even for men, and we haven't yet made things any lighter, why wouldn't the ruck march at Ranger School be a practical test? First Sergeant's an E-8, so he's probably in his thirties somewhere. At one time he was able to make the ruck march. As a Golden Gloves guy he was at one time in fantastic shape. As an NCO in an infantry unit, he's kept himself in at least pretty good shape for a thirty-something. If even this guy is having trouble later in his career, and back injury rates are so high across the force, why would we think that people more prone to such injuries (and other allied injuries) would be a wise addition?

We should thank everyone who participated for exploring this with us, and declare the experiment closed.


Texan99 said...

I agree with your point here, I think, but I'll never understand how you reconcile it with your views on the minimum wage, guaranteed-job programs for the unskilled, and the employer's duty to ensure that workers don't become a public burden. Granted that military performance is important, all the other jobs in the world aren't chopped liver, either.

Grim said...

I think of the military as categorically different from the rest of American society. The rules we apply to the society inside the walls are different from the rules we apply to those whose job is to keep watch on the walls, or wage war beyond the walls.

Again, though, I'm not in favor of a minimum wage per se. I've just argued that it can't be disposed-of given the welfare state. I'm willing to reconsider the view if there's a convincing alternative offered. I just don't want to pay the salaries of private interests. If anything, I think we've become far too entangled in public subsidies to private interests.

I could see an argument that I should give up that principle, and go all the way to guaranteed income. Then, private companies could negotiate any salary anyone wanted to work for, because nothing important would hang on it. If you wanted to sell your time for a nickle an hour, what do I care? Since I've given up the desire not to have my taxes support you, I don't see any need to worry that your employer is paying you enough that I won't have to support you. Then there's no need for anything like a minimum wage.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

There's a lot of in theory here. The goal is to provide training which prepares the soldier for the situations he or she will actually encounter. If there is a re-evaluation that less needs to be carried because technological improvements have eliminated some items or some weight, that's fine. If the occasion for that re-evaluation is the examination in a new cultural light if women should be considered for special forces, then that's fine too. If it turns out that some legitimate changes result in women who would not have qualified under an outmoded standard now qualify under a new one, that's great.

The worry of course is that this line of reasoning will be used as a ruse, in order to arrive at a more politically acceptable result. I think the cultural forces are arrayed so that the change comes eventually, even if all the evidence is against it.

Eric Blair said...

I'm not advocating lowering standards (whatever that really means), but just what is actually being trained for in ranger school?

I suspect that at this point most of this is in fact institutional hazing that (the idea of women as rangers aside) adds no real value to what rangers need to do in the real world.

Grim said...

What's being trained for is advanced infantry combat. Ranger School is as much the advanced infantry officer school as it is the first step toward joining the Rangers, as you know. As for how much of that constitutes hazing, I don't know; but hazing may not be totally illegitimate, either. A large part of what you want to select for are people who can get through true hardship, which means imposing true hardship. The line between that and "hazing" may be impossible to discern.

MikeD said...

I suspect that at this point most of this is in fact institutional hazing that (the idea of women as rangers aside) adds no real value to what rangers need to do in the real world.

Given that real world applications of what Rangers need to do in the real world includes (but is not limited to) scaling over 100' tall cliffs using ropes (as the ladders were not tall enough) while carrying a full combat load, engaging the enemy at the end of the climb (no rest time) and suffering over 135 casualties out of around 225 men over the course of two days fighting... I think that evaluating the trainees for a little mental toughness outweighs the concerns about "hazing". If suffering hunger, mental and physical exhaustion is too much for a trainee, then they are better off sticking to a normal infantry unit.

The point forgotten in all of this is the Rangers ARE the elite light infantry of the US Army. NOT the standard line troops. The standards to become an Army Ranger are MUCH higher than the standards to even become an Airborne qualified soldier (which are somewhat harder than to qualify as an infantryman). They are not meant to be easily passed, nor are they meant to do anything short of weed out all but the toughest (mentally and physically) qualified candidates. This is not a school you go to on a whim, nor is it a school that soldiers are encouraged to attend. This is not something you do to advance your career. It is something you do because you have a calling to do it.

As for the First Sergeant, I estimate he is in his late 30's early 40's, and was at one time physically capable of completing the Ranger school (by virtue of the tab he wears attesting to that fact). I also have no doubt that he is no longer physically capable of passing Ranger school now. And that's no shame. At my physical peak, I have no doubt that I would have washed out of Ranger school had I attempted it (I did not), so I will not sit in judgment of a man who once did but can no longer. But that's not the point. The First Sergeant does NOT lead Rangers into combat. That's not his job. His ability to meet the physical standards of Ranger school are immaterial. He is not applying for that job anymore. And to hold him up as an example that "Rangers don't need to meet these standards" is a false comparison. What IS a fair comparison is what the 20-25 year old Rangers are and have been called upon to do. And the fact is, if an individual gets weeded out in training, it's not like there's a shortage of qualified candidates to fill needed vacancies. Talk of lowering standards and adjusting the training as it has been for the past seven decades serves no purpose of military readiness or combat need. It serves only to lower the standards so that otherwise unqualified candidates can pass the course. And that is a mistake of the first order.