Ranger School sucks. No one ever said that Ranger School was a vacation and that they would do it over again if given the chance. It is a grueling suckfest that will push you to your limits and beyond, but earning the tab and learning about yourself is worth the pain and effort.
A quick search of the Internet will give you a plethora of sites telling you how to prepare for Ranger School, and they all say pretty much the same things: Get into the best shape that you can, learn the Ranger Creed, learn the 5 Paragraph Operations Order, etc. This article is going to be different. This article’s aim is to give you some tips for what happens IN Ranger School. These are the tips that I wish someone had given to me before I went to school.
Tip 1: Your feet are screwed!
No matter how much ruck marching you do before Ranger School (and you should do A LOT), your feet are going to get completely jacked up. Even if you never get blisters on your training rucks, you will get them in school. You are doing a ton of walking through the woods and swamps. Your feet will be accustomed to walking on smooth hard surfaces not through the muck and water that you will be in constantly. Your feet are going to hurt. If you have never walked through the woods with soaking wet feet, then you are in for a new kind of suck. Your feet are going to hurt, blister, and the skin is going to come off them. This is not fun at all, but it is completely normal. There is a reason the medics will check your feet daily when you are in the field.
Tip 2: Sleep with your feet elevated.
This tip comes from my personal experience with extreme leg cramps. Before Ranger School I had never had a leg cramp while sleeping, but I began having severe calf cramps when we would sleep in the barracks. These were cramps that would have me in tears in the middle of the night and would make me extremely nauseous. Sleep is a precious commodity in Ranger School, so having my nights interrupted by nausea inducing calf cramps was not making my life any better. I learned that putting my duffle bag underneath the mattress raised my feet up so that I could still sleep comfortably. Once I made this change, I no longer had calf cramps, and as long as I did not have to get up for fire guard, I slept through the night without any interruptions. When you are in Ranger School, the little things make all the difference.
Tip 3: Artillery
Ranger Instructors (RIs) LOVE to throw artillery simulators. Sometimes they just feel like screwing with the students, and sometimes they are trying to hurry the group up because they are going to miss their hit time. When you are on the move and a RI throws a simulator, you are required to drop to the ground, and then the person in charge calls out a distance and direction that the group must run to get out of the kill zone. ALWAYS call out 12 o’clock! This ensures that the group runs in the direction that you were already moving in. We had very stupid people that would call out 9 o’clock or 3 o’clock, and once, 6 o’clock. Any of these directions take you away from your direction of travel and require more time for the leadership to get their bearings and get back on track.
Tip 4: Each Ranger Instructor is different
While the grading standards are supposed to be even across the board, the reality is that the RIs all come from different backgrounds. I am talking about where they “grew up” in the military. All the RIs have had different experiences and they all have different leadership styles. I had one RI that gave me a No-Go on my patrol because he felt that I was not physically aggressive enough. I was fortunate to get the same RI for my next patrol, so I gave him what he wanted. My RTO got kicked a lot, and quite a few other students got pulled up a mountain by their ruck strap when they broke contact. All the leadership got No-Go’s on that patrol except for me because I gave the RI what he wanted. You must pay attention to the RIs and figure out what style of leadership they want to see.
Tip 5: One day at a time
Ranger School is a marathon not a sprint, and while keeping the coveted tab in mind, you must forget about yesterday and tomorrow. There is only today. Today has enough challenges itself, do not dwell on what happened yesterday and do not dwell on what might happen tomorrow. Ranger School will teach you how to live in the moment better than anything else ever could. If you do not concentrate on today, then you are going to make yourself even more miserable than you already are. You are going to beat yourself up about something that is finished, or you are going to make yourself sick worrying about what may or may not happen tomorrow. Take Ranger School one day at a time, and remember that there is only today. Yesterday and tomorrow do not exist.
Tip 6: You don’t earn your tab. The Ranger to your left and right earn your tab, and you earn theirs.
You must be a team player. Out of the 14 of us that started together (some were recycles into Day 1 or into Darby), 11 of us graduated together (4 of us were straight through). The squad behind us started with 14 and just one graduated when we did. What was the difference? My squad bonded as a team while the squad behind us did not. There were days when we all hated each other, but we knew that no matter what, we needed each other to make it through. On my bad days, my squad was there for me, and on the days where someone else was having a bad day, I was there to pick them up. If you are not a team player, the squad will weed you out through peer evaluations, or they will weed you out by ensuring that you fail your patrols. If, however, you are a team player, then the squad will bend over backwards to ensure you stay.
Rangers Lead The Way
Well, there you have the six tips that I wish someone had told me before going to school. The last one you will hear outside of this article, but it honestly does not sink in until graduation when you realize how much your squad pulled together or pulled itself apart. Just remember to keep your head down and keep walking. No matter how much your feet hurt, they will heal, and no matter how bad your legs cramp, they will release at some point. While in Ranger School only today exists.
Rangers Lead The Way!
Josh Davis is a retired U.S. Army First Sergeant. He is Ranger qualified, Airborne qualified, and SERE-C qualified. He is the recipient of the Expert Infantryman Badge, the Combat Infantryman Badge, the Bronze Star, and numerous foreign jump wings. He has a B.A. in Religion from American Military University and a M.A. in Human Services Counseling with a Life Coaching cognate from Liberty University. He lives with his wife and three kids in Buford, GA where he works as a freelance writer and is a barbering student.