I get asked about how to pass Ranger School a lot and I've probably given this little spiel in varying levels of detail a hundred times over the years, from the time I was a cherry tab laying it down for my roommate until now as I correspond with newly commissioned infantry.
A number of people have spoken on this, a guy even wrote a whole book once; their accounts aren't bad ones, and you should soak up all you can. But my advice now after pumping hundreds of people into that course would be different from what I'd say the day after I graduated.
Ranger School is more a selection than a "school". Not many people can list the tangible things they learned there and as many will tell you there isn't much "Ranger" stuff that goes on. You go to get your tab, it's a gate, one of the many herd thinning systems in place to set the special apart from the not so special...or in some cases the lucky from the unlucky. Here are what I think are the keys to success.
The Physical Aspect isn't rocket science. Google the standards for Ranger School; they're all over the internets. Know that you won't be tested in any of them under ideal conditions or on a flat course. Go being able to absolutely blow the minimum standards out of the water. You name a Murphy and it will happen to you: a grumpy grader, lack of sleep, didn't get to eat, broken boot lace, or having to take a shit, something will go wrong for one or all of the events, so you need to be good enough where it isn't the difference between passing or failing.
Academic Knowledge. I won't rattle off the list of shit in the Ranger handbook but here’s the not so short list of the things you can't fake your way through:
- How to do skill level one shit, meaning be a guy who can effectively operate as a saw gunner, or rifleman and not be a fuckup. Definitely be intimate in the fine art of the machine gun: a quick way to your squads heart is being the guy that can make the pigs squeal. Broken down machine guns means no-gos. Bad. Although it's a leadership school, people need to be effective at the basics in order to be good followers; this is what gets you a go on our patrol.
- Land navigation and route planning. You need to pass a pretty easy land-nav course. That's the easy part. But understanding terrain and planning routes is one of the best ways to ensure your patrol's success. Don't be the guy that walks your platoon up a draw on the first movement in Mountains! You wanna get peered out? That's how you get peered out. If you're the dude that can walk point for your squad all the time, you'll be valuable, and being valuable is good. This comes down to rule #2 in life: Always know where you are.
- Block and Tackle/Basic Infantry Tactics. Remember what you're there for. Don't get so wrapped around the axle on what right "should" look like that you forget the basics of react to contact and raid/recon/ambush. Some of your dudes are shooting, which allows some of your other dudes to move closer to the bad guys...repeat until victory. Revert to this when things are going badly (with some gusto) and you can usually salvage what otherwise could have been a shit sandwich.
- The operations order. You don't need to be a strategic planner, but you need to know how to write and pitch an order. This doesn't just mean memorize the Ranger Handbook and have a good skeleton (which you should also do) but understand the "why" of every part of it.
Intangibles. Leadership is about getting people to do what you want, and Ranger School is made to make people not wanna do anything. Everyone is tired, hungry, wet and too hot or too cold. Everyone in your squad (including you) will have bad days where they're worthless. They'll also have days where for some reason they're firing on all cylinders. Recognize these days in yourself (and don't repeat them often) and in others so you can either back off guys for the good of the mission or pile on them for the good of the mission.
So, what's the secret to thriving and growing as an individual at ranger School? Everyone at Ranger School will have individual strengths and weaknesses based on their personality, physicality, and experiences. I went to School as a 19 year old PFC from a Ranger Battalion. I needed help writing an op order, but could keep the machine guns and saws running and was very used to being shit on all day everyday. I could carry heavy shit all the time, I was never so hungry that I was distracted, and I wasn't a real bad drone to a point.
So here's what I did: I gave big hungry guys some chow every once in awhile. I talked sensitive dudes off the ledge when we were getting hazed on mountains by making stupid jokes and laughing. And I carried gun gear and ammo...and batteries, and water, and skedkos. When I had to tackle planning I never had to go it alone.
My point is this: find what you're good at and do it for everyone. Figure out what other guys are good at and make them do it for everyone. There'll be a machine gun guy, a routes guy, a point man, a paragraph 3 guy, a sector sketch guy.....the list goes on. Just figure it out and make sure you're one of those guys.
Ranger school will bring out the worst in some people and they love to feel better about it by involving others. If you're planning on stealing chow or dumpster diving or burying chow as a holdover or something else that will yield you some small advantage, just don't. You may not get caught. But you don't need to do it. You can get your tab and maintain your self-respect knowing you never ate out of a dumpster. And as a bonus you won't get kicked out of school.
Finally, why does Ranger School carry so much weight with people as a leadership school? After all, that's all it is, right? I think this little list of things you learn in the course can very easily be carried over into just about anything you pursue in life:
- Master the basics
- Know yourself
- Embrace differences and use them to strengthen the team
- Work hard
- Be a good dude