Article: Is Combat rendering Ranger School useless?

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ARLINGTON, Va. — The Army’s celebrated Ranger School, once coveted by young soldiers eager to prove their mettle by surviving two months of grueling simulated combat, is finding it hard to compete with another alternative: actual combat.
After a decade of extended war deployments and with little time back home for training, there is now a “critical” shortage of Ranger School graduates needed to fill hundreds of crucial combat leadership positions intended for them across the Army, school officials say.
The dearth is particularly noticeable among noncommissioned officers — the sergeants, staff sergeants and sergeants first class who lead small units of enlisted soldiers through combat — and among all ranks of combat maneuver operators — the infantry, armor, field artillery and cavalry units fighting at the front lines.
Because of the shortage, soldiers without Ranger training increasingly are filling those leadership positions. Officials at the Army’s exclusive Ranger School at Fort Benning, Ga., and elsewhere said lives may be at risk because soldiers are going into battle without the best possible leaders.
“The best life insurance policy that a person can have ... is his leader being Ranger qualified,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Dennis Smith, who heads Fort Benning’s Ranger Training Brigade.
But others, including some who are Ranger qualified, believe that combat trumps training, that the hard-earned Ranger tab worn on the left shoulder after completing a brutal 61-day regimen through mountains, woods and swamps, on minimal food and sleep, is no substitute for years spent fighting real-life enemies in Afghanistan or Iraq.
NCOs with extensive combat experience are good enough for some.
“They’re as qualified as anybody else,” said Sgt. Maj. Thomas Dartez, who earned his tab in 1985, served with the 2nd Ranger Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, and taught at the school twice, most recently in 2004.
Combat is ultimately the best teacher “because you learn from experience,” Dartez said, using roadside bombs as an example. “Having a tab doesn’t prepare you for that.”
Some graduates join the 75th Ranger Regiment, a special operations unit comprised solely of Rangers. Others serve with the training brigade as instructors. Most — hundreds each year — fan out across the Army to fill leadership positions.
For decades, soldiers did the tab check: shaking hands and glancing at the left shoulder. Wearing a Ranger tab meant people looked at you differently, more was expected of you, said 1st Sgt. Eric Allen, a Ranger instructor from 2004 to 2006, who is deployed to Afghanistan.
Allen went to Ranger School as a 20-year-old specialist because all of his senior leaders had tabs on their left shoulders.
“That right there made the difference in me going early,” he said.
In the 1990s, the only way to prove yourself was to graduate from Ranger School, said Capt. Timothy Price, the Ranger-qualified commander of Company D, 2nd Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division.
Now, some soldiers who have earned Combat Infantry Badges and served multiple wartime deployments don’t see a use for Ranger school.
Allen and Price believe that is the wrong attitude. Without Ranger-qualified leaders in combat, the standards are lowered, Allen said, adding that Ranger School provides a broad leadership perspective, putting soldiers into a wide range of scenarios.
The Ranger tab still holds luster for some. At Afghanistan’s Forward Operating Base Howz-E Madad, Ranger-qualified Lt. Col. Peter Benchoff, commander of 2nd Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, said he often picks Ranger-tabbed officers over those without the tab to fill command positions.
To Benchoff, Ranger School prepares soldiers for the kind of fighting happening in Afghanistan, especially in mountainous provinces like Kunar and Paktika, making them more “confident in how to plan those kind of patrols from the start.”
But after years of fast-paced, repeated deployments, time away from war is precious.
Smith, the school’s commander, and several others said soldiers often get only a year at home between deployments and they’re loathe to trade two months with their families for two months in Ranger School. Other Ranger-tabbed junior soldiers are getting promoted sooner, making rank and leaving the Army faster than they can be replaced.
How bad is it?
Ranger-qualifed soldiers fill less than 50 percent of the positions marked for enlisted troops, and things are particularly bleak among NCOs, said Smith, who took over Ranger training in January. Sergeants, for example, are filling only 25 percent of their slots, while staff sergeants fill 40 percent.
And there is little improvement coming in the immediate future. The small number of NCOs enrolling, he said, is “pretty staggering.”
“If something doesn’t get done about this soon, the Ranger NCO ... we’re going to be extinct,” Smith said. “And the Army is going to suffer in the long run from it.”
To Smith’s frustration, some senior leaders do not share his sense of urgency.
“I have not seen this as a readiness challenge,” U.S. Army Pacific commander Lt. Gen. Benjamin “Randy” Mixon said in an e-mail.
Mixon, who still wears his tab, commanded a Ranger company and served in the 75th Ranger Regiment, said it is a great accomplishment, “but not the ultimate qualifier.”
“I judge the individual and their experience,” said, “not the badges they wear.”
Those fit enough to get in the door of Ranger School are taught skills to lead squads and platoons through continuous combat patrols — including military mountaineering, mobility training, knots and ropes for rappelling and hauling equipment, parachute assaults and small boats — all while under severe weather, hunger and emotional stress, tested by ambush raids and urban assaults.
The training builds confidence in all types of soldiers to know how they will react in real combat.
“Ranger School is much more than a two month ‘suck it up’ school,” school spokesman Sgt. 1st Class Todd Hutchings said. “Your body is smoked but your mind must continue working as you lead your classmates through complex missions in austere environments.
“Today’s battlefield and combat conditions force many different career fields to fight shoulder-to-shoulder,” Hutchings added, “and having some common knowledge and tactics allows operations to proceed with less confusion.”
Smith has vowed never to turn away a qualified applicant, and actually filled all 11 classes this year over their 270-person capacity; one even reached 426.
But they were mostly the wrong kind of applicants, he stressed — enlisted soldiers from low-priority job specialties, or officers.
Without enough staff sergeants, the school is targeting specialists to sergeants in combat maneuver fields.
Rangers are among the special operations forces the Pentagon is leaning on to hunt terrorists and insurgents worldwide. And though a special operations forces spokesman said the shortage hasn’t put anyone at risk, not everyone agrees.
Asked if fewer Ranger-qualified soldiers downrange means greater risk for soldiers, Jeffrey Addicott, a former senior legal advisor to U.S. Army Special Forces, said: “Absolutely.”
“These folks are really the weapon of choice for a lot of missions in Somalia, Yemen, Afghanistan [and] Pakistan,” said Addicott, now director of the Center for Terrorism and Law at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio. “That’s the one thing you shouldn’t tinker with.”
Me, as a 2LT with zero combat: "Smitty are these missions anything like the stuff you saw overseas?"
Smitty (a 1/75 combat vet of A-stan): Bro, aside from the lights of Florida in the background, from up here at the Support By Fire position, this madness looks like the one of the objectives we hit in Afghanistan. This junk looks and feels real.

I'm a firm believer that Ranger School changes people, and for the better. We sent a newly minted E-5 TL before deployment in 06 and he came back on fire and was the best TL in the company. What brought him from good to great? The challenge and successful completion of Ranger School. Just an animal on the whole deployment. We've had Ranger qualified guys come into 4ID and take a squad or a team and turn them into wild eyed pipehitters. Those Ranger qualified NCOs brought something into our mech unit that just made us all better. And they made sure the Ranger Qualified officers earned that tab everyday too. Like I said, it made the whole organization better. Just like anyone with speciality training makes the unit better.

It's a gut check, it's a never-quit mentality, it's the realization that you are Ranger qualified for LIFE and have to live up to it for LIFE. And it's a challenge. We want to be around people who challenge themselves in different ways, and Ranger School fits the bill. Besides, it's a leadership school for young NCOs and Officers who need and want that little bit of extra training and mentorship in order to get more comfortable with what will be expected of them.

Just my :2cents:
Maybe the school needs to be tweaked so folks will think it's more relevant?

Possibly. I have a buddy who was an RI there for nearly 6 years and he was constantly reminding us that the school consistently reviews the POI with AARs from overseas. I'm going to send him this article and see if I can't get some feedback to post here.
My personal take?

Ranger school *IS* relevant, and necessary. I can take the worst mission in afghanistan that I was on, and extend it for the duration of the field time in mountains, and the only difference from my personal experience is deserts vs woodland, and RI's giving you a paper failure vs Hadji handing out permanent lifetime status NO-GO's.

Even just the classroom function of a thorough but quick frago/opord/warnord, is important. Granted, in the 'real world' there's a whole lotta "as per sop" but still, making sure the information is there... and the more tabbed dudes are eyeballing the mission, the more critical eyes you have with experience that varies but all has a common basis of what the golden standard is, to ensure that you have the best possible plan and breakdown of oh-shit contingencies, before you step off. That shit is important.

It's alot harder to swing a patrol and just rolling into a raid within 5 minutes of seeing something if there's only 2 tabs in a platoon compared to a platoon with a private minority and a tabbed majority. I'm thinking of one specific party we crashed that there's no fucking way my stryker platoon could have handled it as quickly and effectively as we did.
I don't think Ranger school has lost it's relevance or is destine to lose it's importance in the future. Yes they maybe hurting in some NCO fields because op tempo's not allowing many NCO's to go. But as Iraq and A-stan wind down the importance of Ranger school in NCO development will gain strength again.

I agree that combat experience tops school training but is there such a thing as too much training? Can a combat vet go to Ranger School and not learn something new?

People tend to think only about today instead of the long term. The wars will eventually end at least for the larger maneuver elements with SF and other specialized units op tempo will probably still remain very high but it's hard to say what the world will look like 10 years from now. We could be at a very peaceful state similar to the 80's and the vast majority of the combat vets in the service today will be gone. Ranger school will be needed and I have no doubt still be there training the next crop of young troops in small unit leadership skills.
caveat: not a Ranger nor a Ranger School grad and never will be.

I was always told that Ranger School is a leadership course; if that is true then regardless of what one experiences in combat, and whether one ever experiences combat, leadership training is always valuable.

So from the back row in the cheap seats, to answer the question of the thread, "no, combat is not rendering Ranger School useless."
I would say it's a leadership course, a patrolling course, and a gut check all rolled into one.

I spent 2 months in batt before I went to school. So in my case, I would say that this course is perfect for any junior soldier (enlisted or officer) who doesn't know shit about anything. Not only do you spend some time in the field digging holes every night, but you get to know your battle drills inside out, work in three different types of terrain, and get to experience how sucky things can get at any moment (mass casualties from ambushes, your ruck strap breaks as you begin movement lol, you're put in charge of the patrol, etc). People from all walks of life do fail the course though. I've seen SF and Batt dudes fail on patrols. IMO, there is also an element of luck involved....or at least there was when I went though it. My first no go was due to my squad leader putting out a claymore when we were in the patrol base. He put it facing the patrol base....and I failed to do a "spot check." In a real world scenario, you aren't typically working with the finest turds in the Army like many of us have in school and can actually trust that the soldier has done it right :D

Boon - 2x recycle - 6 month Ranger School tour :confused:
Personally I think they should offer it right out of AIT to Combat Arms to those who want it. If you get rolled you head to your first duty station
I have not attended Ranger school so I can only go off of what I have seen/experienced from individuals who were tabbed. It didn’t make a difference if my PL/PSG/SL had a tab or not, I could really have cared less. The leaders I did have that were tabbed, normally did not have any better of an idea of what to do, or what was going on that the rest of us. Tactics were straight from the book with no deviations from the book, basic soldier skills were normally better than the average but not to the point I would have expected from such a prestigious school.

I was assigned a squad in early 2008 to go through a deployment train up (Replacement Company); I had a SPC with a Ranger tab that I made a TL. It was the worst choice I had made; the dude was all jacked up and had no idea what he was doing. Questioned me on issues that were clearly out of my and his level of control and he all around made it difficult to get things done (whatever they were). I quickly fired him and put a non tabbed, non combat experienced E4 in charge, and shit went smooth…

That said, I think it is very relevant in developing soldiers to be aggressive and to learn to suck it up and drive on. One of my biggest regrets to date is not going to Ranger school and if my body could handle it I would go in a heart beat. I think it gives instant creditability to SRNCO or O, and tells your JR soldiers that you are tough and have the ability to drive on through the hardest of conditions. Leadership cannot be learned in 62 days and your ability to lead is always being evaluated by the soldier that you do lead, regardless of the patches you wear.

I think the attendence will pick up once A-stan draws down...
I'm not a Ranger School grad, never attended, but I think if the Army did a better job of training those in leadership positions then it wouldn't need Ranger School, especially 11 series. I don't have an issue with the school, but the need for it in the first place.
I am pretty sure this is the first time we have had a war since Ranger school was established otherwise we would have figured this out already. I have never been to Ranger school and I have heard nothing but good things. That being said, leaders should be evaluated based on their capabilities, leadership and experience not on what schools they have been to. The same arguement could be made for making Westpoint mandatory for all command positions because that too is a leadership school.
No, they had Ranger school during Vietnam. There was a huge issue with "Shake and Bake NCO's" getting basic, airborne, pldc or whatever it was then, Ranger school, then coming and thinking they could lead a LRRP team and tell Combat Scrolled Steve what the fuck he should be doing, nevermind Scrolled Steve had been running Charlie into the dirt on a daily basis while Sarge had still be masturbating stateside in a barracks.
I fail to see how - unless training methods are becoming extremely outdated or just straight up teaching inaccurate material - any school would become "useless". Much less for a school like Ranger which is ostensibly one of the best combat leadership schools the military operates.

Just my two non-tabbed pennies...
I fail to see how - unless training methods are becoming extremely outdated or just straight up teaching inaccurate material - any school would become "useless". Much less for a school like Ranger which is ostensibly one of the best combat leadership schools the military operates.

Just my two non-tabbed pennies...

From what I hear, Air Assault school is a mite redundant as a training school... .02c
No, they had Ranger school during Vietnam. There was a huge issue with "Shake and Bake NCO's" getting basic, airborne, pldc or whatever it was then, Ranger school, then coming and thinking they could lead a LRRP team and tell Combat Scrolled Steve what the fuck he should be doing, nevermind Scrolled Steve had been running Charlie into the dirt on a daily basis while Sarge had still be masturbating stateside in a barracks.

I will wave a sarcasm flag in the future. I think there were tabbed Rangers in Korea. I could be wrong though. You illustrated my point exactly, this is not the first time that this issue has come up and it will not be the last. War is nothing new to the American servicemember and combat has not rendered Ranger school useless. The title is worded in a way to illicit an emotional response by both tabbed and non tabbed readers. While we have been at war for the last ten years or so, there are still thousands of soldiers who have not seen combat; in fact there are thousands of soldiers who have deployed in support of combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan who have never been under fire. War has brought us a generation of soldiers and Marines with extensive combat experience who are helping us devleop more refined and improved tactics but it has also brought us a generation of soldiers and Marines who think that they are better than the corps infantryman's skills that were learned in Chapultepec, Iwo Jima and Inchon. Combat has made us complacent and I have seen many soldiers and Marines who have only experienced a taste of combat and allow their discipline and vigiliance to slack because they are tempered by their own survival. Marines who have relied on their rifle for their lives rarely have to be reminded to clean their weapons. A Marine who has had to step over his brothers to defeat the enemy rarely have to be told to remain vigilant, take cover or keep their gear on. Combat, while self correcting, is not always the best teacher. We should not abandon our leadership institutions just because our Marines and soldiers are receiving their lessons elsewhere.
From what I hear, Air Assault school is a mite redundant as a training school... .02c

I thought that the main gist of Air Assault School (i.e. slingloading and airmobile ops) could have been successfully accomplished at Sergeant's Time training on one or two Thursdays. I didn't feel like we needed "the hardest ten days in the Army" :rolleyes: to teach my Soldiers how to follow a slingload checklist or to memorize load capacities. I never understood what all the footmarching was about- isn't that what the helicopters were for? Plus in the 101st we footmarched every week anyway. 12-miler? *yawn* I think the Army could do away with the badge and all the different courses that teach it and save some money to put elsewhere.
Not a Ranger, won't ever be. This is just an observation and not in any way my opinion, as it would be way the eff out of my lane.

I did, however, work with 2 separate 4 man teams of Rangers, all 1/75th, as my SST (security team) during my deployment. The view of the younger (non tabbed) guys on both teams was, "I have 4 deployments at this point, and going to school is going to do what for me again? Make me a team leader at the Batt? It's more of a box to check now and less of a necessity. We get almost all of what we need in the new RASP, and it's working."

The view of the older (tabbed) guys was way, way different. It was more like "Your ignorance has bred arrogance- you don't know what you don't know, and that has given you a false sense of security. The reason you were able to make it through that first deployment was because you had a tabbed team leader that got HIS experience both through deployments and school. When you go, you'll feel differently. Also, shut up you're an idiot."

Anyway, that's it. Simply outside looking in. Interesting topic though.