Interview with 75th Ranger Regiment Commander Col. Christopher Vanek


running up that hill
Jan 3, 2007
in Wonderland, with my Alice


John D. Gresham: Can you tell us a little about yourself? Where were you born and where did you grow up? What is your civilian and military education and Army/SOF career prior to taking over at the 75th Ranger Regiment?

Col. Christopher Vanek: I graduated from the Arizona State University in 1989 and was commissioned as an infantry officer. My first assignment was with the 1/14th Infantry, 25th Infantry Division. From there I served as a platoon leader with 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment. I served with 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment from 1998 to 2004; I was the battalion logistics officer, rifle company commander, battalion liaison officer, operations and executive officer and deployed multiple times in support of Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom. I was fortunate enough to serve at the regimental headquarters from 2004 to 2006 as the regimental operations officer and deputy commanding officer while also serving as the joint task force operations officer during Operation Enduring Freedom. After serving with 10th Mountain Division, I returned to the Ranger Regiment in 2009 to serve as the regiment’s deputy commanding officer. I left the regiment in 2011 and assumed command of 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 25th ID and from there attended the Naval War College in Newport, R.I. I assumed command of the 75th Ranger Regiment July 2013. I hold a Bachelor’s Degree from Arizona State University and two Masters Degrees.

After more than a dozen years in continuous combat, what is the state of the regiment as of spring 2014?

The 75th Ranger Regiment represents the best in our nation. It is composed of five-time volunteers of the highest caliber and degree of selfless service. The regiment continues to be the standard bearer for our nation’s Army and is held to the highest standards of performance and discipline. The regiment has participated in combat operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan continuously for more than 12 years, executing the most complex and dangerous operations in support of our national objectives and interests. It has not come without a significant cost. To date, 64 Rangers have made the ultimate sacrifice and the regiment has sustained 672 wounded in action personnel since 2001. But we are also a force in transition. As the conflict in Afghanistan draws to a close, the regiment remains at the highest state of readiness prepared to answer our nation’s call to service in combat. We are chartered by the United States Army Special Operations Commanding General to conduct special operations and specifically forced entry into a complex environment and special operations surgical raids. Finally, I would say that more than a dozen years in combat has given us the most experienced and tested force in the history of the Ranger Regiment. We have literally grown a generation of leaders through more than a decade of combat against one of the most resilient enemies our country has ever faced. Our ranks today are filled with an understanding of what it takes to survive and win on the battlefield. As an example, our platoon sergeants have participated in an average of 500-700 special operations combat raids and the majority of them have been wounded on multiple occasions while also performing valorously on the field of battle. We are also more capable than ever before. The 75th Ranger Regiment has added specialties, technologies and programs that make us an even more lethal force than we were in 2001.

Is it correct to say that the 75th Ranger Regiment has had a continuous presence in Afghanistan since the famous parachute jump onto Objective Rhino on Oct. 19, 2001?

The 75th Ranger Regiment has been operating in Afghanistan since our forcible entry on Objective Rhino in October 2001. That airfield seizure started more than 12 years of continuous combat in that country in support of the Global War on Terror. While the scope of the regiment’s participation in Operation Enduring Freedom has fluctuated from a Ranger rifle company to the majority of the regiment at times, we were there when the war began and expect to remain in Afghanistan until directed to withdraw.

Like other units in USASOC, the 75th Ranger Regiment has evolved and grown since 2001. Can you please explain the current structure and organization of the regiment? How has the regiment evolved in that time?

Over the past thirteen years of conflict, the Ranger Regiment has evolved to not only meet requirements identified through its experience in OEF and OIF but also to meet the challenges of the future. The first major changes came with the implementation of Ranger Regiment XXI in 2006, which included the establishment of the Regimental Special Troops Battalion, or RSTB, and Echo Companies, which provides an organic support company to each of the Ranger Rifle Battalions. In 2007, a fourth Ranger rifle company was added to each of the numbered Ranger battalions as the requirement for additional combat power evolved from the nation’s involvement in both Iraq and Afghanistan. These companies were designated as Delta Companies. The Regimental Special Troops Battalion (RSTB) established the formerly detachment-level formations into full-fledged companies. Specifically, this created the Regimental Reconnaissance Company, the Regimental Communications Company, the Regimental Military Intelligence Company, and the Regimental Selection and Training Company. Intelligence capabilities have also grown over the years to include the addition of 89 military intelligence soldiers. The RSTB received an organic Shadow UAS platoon in 2012. The regiment has also added unique enabler functions to include multi-purpose canines, sniper platoons and additional reconnaissance, surveillance, and target acquisition (RSTA) capabilities. Based on the effects of the Budget Control Act legislation, the regiment is losing 369 positions in the future and we are currently conducting a Force Design Update (FDU) to better adjust to our nation’s evolving priorities.

Before 9/11, the regiment already had a fearsome reputation and history of combat operations. How has that reputation grown since 9/11?

Before 9/11, the Ranger Regiment was known for quick strikes into hostile territory to accomplish a specific mission and then redeploying when the mission was completed. You could say the regiment was Expeditionary like. Missions like Operation Urgent Fury in Grenada and Operation Just Cause in Panama are examples of the types of missions the modern Rangers were known for. Afghanistan and Iraq changed all of that. Now we are known as a special operations force that can operate in sustained combat indefinitely for years. I firmly believe that the regiment’s participation in continuous combat operations in Iraq from 2003-2010 turned the tide against the insurgency as the terrorist networks simply could not sustain themselves under the continuous pressure applied by USSOF and a counter-insurgency campaign. Maybe more important, we’ve developed our methods of operation to support conventional forces on the battlefield within their battlespace so we are truly an enabling mechanism to allow them to execute their lines of operation.

Like the rest of USASOC, the 75th Ranger Regiment has had to adapt to a number of new roles and missions since 9/11. What are the most important of these new tasks and what has the regiment had to do to accomplish them?

The first task that the 75th Ranger Regiment encountered after 9/11 was to command and control a Joint Special Operations Task Force. We found ourselves controlling special operations units from across the joint community and synchronizing all of their capabilities into one effort that supported the Global War on Terror. We initiated this capability in Iraq and then perfected it in Afghanistan. The second capability we developed was our find, fix, finish, exploit, and assess (F3EA) targeting process that Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn from the DIA taught us. This capability enables the regiment to strike at and pressure an enemy network continually until it collapses under the resulting pressure against it.

It is no secret that the 75th Ranger Regiment is all about the men, selected and trained in one of the harshest and most difficult selection and qualification courses in the world today. Has that process changed any since 9/11, and do you anticipate any major evolutions at the Ranger schoolhouse in the years ahead?

Our assessment and selection process changed in 2009 because of the lessons we learned from Afghanistan and Iraq as well as in response to the high operational tempo of our battalions. What the regiment needed to send battalions were not just Rangers who had proven their mental and physical toughness. Rangers also needed to be trained as if they were going to deploy the day they arrived at their battalion. Furthermore, we identified a deficiency in that prior to 2009, we really only oriented candidates to the regiment prior to assigning to a specific platoon, company and battalion. Candidates frankly were not assessed for their potential to successfully serve in the regiment while simultaneously the regiment was being asked to conduct its nation’s most sensitive operations. So the Ranger Indoctrination Program and the Ranger Orientation Program became the Ranger Assessment and Selection Program. RASP 1 is the training path for all sergeants and below with eight weeks training AND assessments vice three weeks in RIP. The course is incredibly challenging, both physically and mentally, but now also provides the training required to serve in the entry level positions of the regiment and a baseline of knowledge regardless of their occupational specialty. Rangers now learn advanced marksmanship on all common Ranger weapons, the Ranger First Responder medical program, breaching techniques, vehicle driving skills, land navigation and small unit tactics. When a Ranger graduates from RASP 1, he is ready to join his squad, perform his duties, and deploy to combat. RASP 2 is the path for all staff sergeants and above, warrant officers, and officers with three weeks of training and assessments instead of two. This course is designed to expose potential leaders of the regiment to our operating procedures and culture with the same demanding physical and mental testing standards while assessing leadership abilities and skill competencies that are compatible with our organization. All members are required to complete the same selection and assessment program regardless of career field.

Rangers serving in the 75th Ranger Regiment are afforded the opportunity to attend the U.S. Army Ranger Course. However, the Ranger Course is run by the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command, not the 75th Ranger Regiment.

While the Rangers themselves are the centerpieces of the regiment, it is no secret that they are using a number of tools and weapons that did not exist on 9/11. What are the most interesting of these, and how is the regiment using them out in the field today? Are there any new systems/technologies on the horizon that might prove useful to future Ranger operations?

The regiment has continued to serve as a platform for the latest technologies and equipment advances for the Army in line with the CSA’s charter to the Ranger Regiment. Most notably this includes the En Route Mission Command Capability that has revolutionized our situational awareness and mission planning in support of forcible entry operations and is now moving forward as a program of record in support of the greater Army. The regiment also played a significant role in the advancement of individual soldier situational awareness through the use and further development of the Nett Warrior End User Device. Rangers also worked with the Asymmetric Warfare Group or AWG on the development of the Man Portable Line Clearing Charge (MPLC). The regiment continues to work closely with the Maneuver Center of Excellence and the greater SOF community to develop soldier systems that increase the lethality and effectiveness of all soldiers. As another example, the regiment tested and utilized mortar precision ammunition for the first time in the history of the Army, in combat.

In addition the 75th Ranger Regiment has replaced the Emergency Medical Technician Basic program with an internally run Advanced Ranger First Responder (A-RFR) program. The program will take one 11B infantryman per squad and train him in advanced first responder skills, giving him a significant increase in medical skills applicable to the battlefield. The course, run annually, runs for 1-2 weeks and trains the non-medic in advanced hemorrhagic control, airway management, shock management, pharmacology, casualty collection point operations, and high/low angle rescue. The intent of the course is to bridge the gap between a medic and first responder, giving the non-medic advanced skills for medical treatment when isolated from the medical team, or to serve as a highly qualified first assist.

The 75th Ranger Regimental medical team recently implemented a new hemorrhagic shock management protocol. The protocol integrates early use of tranexamic acid (TXA), freeze dried plasma (FDP), and field use of fresh whole blood (FWB). FDP has been fielded to the 75th Ranger Regiment as part of an FDA Investigational New Drug study. Recently the protocol was put to use and for the first time FDP was used on a surviving trauma patient in combat. This training and protocol has contributed to an unprecedented survival rate for Rangers wounded on the battlefield.

Recently, the Joint Trauma System based out of San Antonio, Texas, implemented a theater wide casualty after action review process. This process captures level one medical care data to fuel future research and training. The system is based on the 75th Ranger Regiment’s well-publicized Pre-Hospital Trauma Registry.

What parts of ARSOF 2022, in your opinion, apply to the 75th, and how do you see that affecting your unit in the years ahead?

Actually ARSOF 2022 provides significant detail and responsibilities for the 75th Ranger Regiment. The USASOC commanding general has provided a very clear vision on what roles he sees the regiment providing to the nation. ARSOF 2022 describes the use of Army special operations across the continuum of conflict from pre-conflict to post conflict operations and the commanding general has tasked the regiment with very challenging and specific responsibilities. ARSOF 2022 gives our nation’s leaders capabilities and provides great tools for our nation that were not previously described well. The regiment provides one of those tools, which may or may not be appropriate given a set of conditions and a specific environment. Before 9/11, we were known as a force that seized airfields and conducted raids. But now, after almost 13 years of continuous combat, our capability has outgrown that narrow mission set. We have an interoperability capacity with the conventional forces that allows us to conduct anything in support of an operation from special operations missions to infantry related tasks. That capacity will continue to grow as we integrate into major training events with conventional forces at the National Training Center, the Joint Readiness Training Center, and even the Korea Training Center. We have also developed the capability of training and partnering with a host nation special operations force. In Afghanistan, we have partnered with and operated on the battlefield with the most capable Afghan SOF in the nation for over half of a decade. We also have a charter from the current Chief of Staff of the Army. Gen. [Raymond T.] Odierno laid out his expectations for the 75th Ranger Regiment. His expectation is that we will always continue to be a premier special operations force, the proponent for forcible entry mission, the link between the SOF community and the conventional combat brigades, and the most elite infantry force in the world.

As a result of ARSOF 2022, what future requirements do you see coming down the line for the 75th Ranger Regiment, and do you see additional roles and missions in its future?

As a result of ARSOF 2022 and the emerging environment, we truly need to be ready for any type of mission and that is why we will continue to train to remain proficient in a multitude of tasks. It is important that our battalions continue to train consistently on the forcible entry mission. We must remain able to provide our National Military Command the capability to gain a foothold and operate in a hostile environment, whether to destroy an enemy, facilitate follow-on forces as part of a larger operation, or to conduct a non-combatant evacuation. We will continue to train our special operations capabilities at the platoon and company levels to remain proficient in synchronizing joint assets and attack enemy networks. And now we are also focusing on training with units outside the special operations community, brigade size and above, in preparation for a more conventional fight. The 75th Ranger Regiment will have a mission in any type conflict and across the full spectrum of operations.

It goes without saying that the 75th Ranger Regiment has been fully engaged since being committed after 9/11. Do you see any further expansions for the regiment in the years ahead, or the possibility of forming a second dedicated Ranger formation down the road?

Further expansion will be difficult in the near term, with budget constraints and a draw down in the overall force. Additionally, growing in size comes with parallel degradation in quality. This has been re-learned since the first hostilities among mankind. The 75th Ranger Regiment is focused on maintaining the Army’s premier special operations capable infantry while institutionalizing the hard lessons learned over the past 12 plus years in combat. Our growth in intelligence capabilities has been crucial in our ability to find, fix and finish the enemy by adding the ability to exploit and analyze. Our Multi-Purpose Canine Program has been critical to the success of our forces in complex environments with an enemy that hides among a populace that is being terrorized. And our Regimental Selection and Training Company has been decisive in producing the highly trained Rangers that have filled our ranks for the last 13 years. The 75th Ranger Regiment will always adapt to an always-adapting enemy threat, but currently we are focused on keeping those valuable capabilities we developed and need in order to meet tomorrow’s mission.

In the face of constrained budgets and the overall draw down of the Army, future growth is unlikely. However, the regiment is committed to capitalizing on the critical capability advancements across its formations to ensure these gains are fully institutionalized and right sized for future contingencies. We will continue to share the lessons we’ve learned in our continued integration with the conventional forces.

As potentially the last of the wartime (Global War on Terror) 75th Ranger Regiment commanders, how would you summarize the performance of your regiment and your Rangers during the period following 9/11?

As I look back at more than 13 years of continuous combat, in both Afghanistan and Iraq, I am humbled by the performance of the 75th Ranger Regiment and specifically those assigned to the regiment who have served their nation so faithfully and often with so much sacrifice. Our battalion commanders and command sergeants major have 4-6 cumulative years of combat experience and yet only want to serve their nation to their greatest ability. And they are representative of every Ranger in the organization. It is also important to recognize what has been asked of our Ranger families. The spouses, mothers, sons and daughters, fathers, and brothers and sisters who have not had the convenience of having their Ranger home for so many holidays and special occasions that it’s almost become acceptable. And finally I remain incredibly humbled by those families who have made the ultimate sacrifice in the loss of their Ranger. Based on a desire of so many of these heroic families to maintain a tie to their Ranger, we have developed a Gold Star Family program that directly links these special families to our regiment. The outpouring of continued support and resilience has been truly spectacular and it’s made our regiment even stronger. The valorous awards that have been awarded to the Rangers of the 75th Ranger Regiment speaks volumes to their commitment and dedication to our nation and to each other. One Medal of Honor, one Distinguished Service Cross, more than 600 Purple Heart Medals, 49 Silver Stars and more than 300 Bronze Star Medals for Valor.

Finally, I join the rest of the nation in honoring the service of this truly unique formation of selfless servants. I am amazed by the character, resilience and commitment of each of our Rangers. While the vast majority of our nation has remained remarkably supportive of our service members and our Rangers, they have done so while living in relative security that our Rangers provide as they conduct exceptionally dangerous operations in combat every day or night. The Rangers that serve in the 75th Ranger Regiment are the best our country has to offer.
Thanks for the read. Found it interesting, especially looking forward.