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Rangers have always been my favorite soldiers. My admiration for them probably started at age 10 when I watched Spencer Tracy in the movie “Northwest Passage” – or perhaps it was the daring deeds of Darby’s Rangers in Africa, Sicily, Italy and France. For sure, seeing Rangers in action in Korea and Vietnam was the clincher. And once I was hooked, I’ve remained one of their biggest fans.
Since the Korean War, the Infantry Center at Fort Benning, Ga., has been training individual Rangers at the conventional Army’s most demanding course. Upon completion, these proud Ranger graduates have always infused the rest of the Army with the high standards of professionalism required to prepare men for battle and to make it through the horror of combat.
Ranger training has never been easy. Darby set the standard in 1942 while forging the first U.S. Ranger battalion. “We trained from early morning till late at night, seven days a week,” he wrote. Ironman physical conditioning, speed marches, difficult obstacles and exacting discipline were just part of the drill. And there was always that infamous in-your-face stress created by the Ranger Instructors and designed to weed out those who would fall apart in a firefight.
About half of Darby’s highly motivated initial volunteers didn’t make it. In the years since, this 50 percent attrition mark has continued to be the norm.
While the rest of the U.S. Army has lowered its standards to the point where seasoned war vets find today’s combat training a joke and the crusty salts who fought at Anzio, Osan and Dak To refer to what passes for most training as “an invitation to get killed,” Rangers have fought lowering the training bar and have consistently turned out hardened studs whom commanders in the field would fight to get.
That is until Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton, the guy who runs Fort Benning today, was told by a few recent Ranger graduates that they were turned off by Ranger School because some of their RIs were meanies and actually yelled and cursed at them and even made them do pushups when they goofed up. Others complained in writing that they’d been sleep-deprived and that the training was too difficult.
For the record, the RIs – hardened vets who know what it takes to win and walk away alive – were merely following the battle-tested Darby practices of creating maximum stress, teaching attention to detail and passing on the proven tactics and techniques that have worked so splendidly for our Rangers in a bunch of bad scraps.
But serving Rangers say Eaton went ballistic. He assembled the RIs and gave these tough, dedicated warriors – most with 12 to 15 years of service – a tongue-lashing they’ll never forget.
About the time this general-officer temper tantrum occurred, an investigation was launched. Magnificent soldiers such as Command Sgt. Maj. Bobby Lane, a combat Ranger with 23 years of superior service, were relieved, and other equally fine soldiers’ careers went down the toilet.
Because clueless Generation Xers with a few months in the Army ratted out these heroes to a general who then overreacted.
- RIs are now no longer allowed to swear in the presence of a student. Nor can they raise their voices or use pushups as punishment. Students wear sneakers instead of boots and are coddled as if they were at a Boy Scout Jamboree instead of preparing for a kill-or-be-killed rendezvous on a hillside in Afghanistan or a patch of desert in Iraq.
- When an RI complained to his boss that today’s training environment is like “walking on eggshells,” the colonel – who caved for those potential stars flickering in the breeze along with the rest of the Ranger colonels who didn’t come to their fine RIs’ defense – said, “Good, that’s the way I want it.”
- When Ranger students were recently caught writing “obscene graffiti” on a Ranger vehicle, RIs asked their colonel to boot the guilty from the school. The colonel passed. Could he be afraid of the students complaining again to Eaton?
Pray our future enemies will be as weak as the Iraqis. Because down the road, we might not have real Rangers to Lead the Way as they have for the past 250 years.