When a soldier arrives to a new unit with a Ranger tab on his sleeve, his skill set is validated, said Command Sgt. Maj. Joseph Cornelison, senior noncommissioned officer of 2nd Squadron, 38th Cavalry Regiment, 504th Battlefield Surveillance Brigade.
“It’s good for soldiers. They learn about themselves and leadership skills in a way they can’t get anywhere else,” he said.
Cornelison wears the Ranger tab and spent the first 10 years of his Army career in Ranger-heavy units, even serving in the Ranger Training Brigade at Fort Benning, Ga. Now serving in Fort Hood’s battalion-sized unit with the largest concentration of Rangers, Cornelison is putting his experience to work helping create a pre-Ranger qualifying course for soldiers in the squadron who want to be Rangers.
“I know from the instructor point of view what it takes. I’ve seen guys make every mistake you can. I’ve seen them at their breaking point,” Cornelison said.
More than half of all Ranger school failures occur within the first three days, or the Ranger Assessment Phase, so the squadron decided to put training emphasis on these events, conducting their first qualifying course Oct. 22-26 with 23 volunteers. Of those soldiers, 20 finished the training event and eight passed all the events and could be off to Ranger School at the beginning of next year.
“We are trying to set these guys up for success,” said Sgt. 1st Class David Brigham, who helped prepare the training. “If we can identify those that will be successful, we can get our percentages higher.”
Assessment phase events include a Ranger Physical Fitness Test, the Combat Water Survival Assessment, night and day land navigation, weapons and communication equipment assembly, a 2.1 mile two-man buddy run to an obstacle course and culminates with the 12-mile foot march with each student carrying an average load of 35 pounds (without water).
“This is something I’ve wanted to do since I joined the Army,” said Spc. Todd Konrad, a cavalry scout with the squadron. “I want to challenge myself and be part of the elite group. It’s something to be proud of.”
Konrad said he appreciates being in a unit willing to go the extra effort to make sure he’s ready for what is known as the hardest school in the Army.
“They told me what I need to work on,” he said. “The instructors were really professional in instilling discipline and keeping the standards up.”
Shortage of Ranger leaders
To create training that simulated the assessment phase, the unit pulled together all of its Rangers. Being the long range reconnaissance squadron for III Corps, the unit has 59 positions designated for an Army Ranger. Right now only 32 are filled, said Lt. Col. John Cogbill, squadron commander. This shortage, which is seen Army-wide, is partially due to the unit’s recent year-long deployment to Afghanistan.
“There’s a shortage of Ranger leaders, because of 10 years of war,” Cogbill said. Ranger School is a 61-day course.
Sgt. 1st Class Aaron Bibb is a cavalry scout in the squadron who has been trying to find time between his three deployments to get to Ranger School.
“It’s always something I’ve wanted to do,” he said. “I’m hoping real world experience will off-set the age and wear and tear on my body.
The training, he said, provided a good measure of where he would stand in the first three days of Ranger School. Getting advice from Rangers was also a benefit.
“I’m going to continue to work hard and improve my physical fitness,” Bibb said.
But it’s not just about meeting a quota for the “Phantom Trackers” squadron.
“The benefit of having Rangers in the unit is they’ve been through the physical and mental challenges of Ranger School that prepares them for combat and to lead soldiers,” Brigham said. “It’s the most realistic thing to combat, because of the lack of sleep and lack of food.”
What benefits the unit, benefits the Army, Cornelison added.
The squadron hopes to conduct the Ranger qualifying training once a quarter. Those who participate in the training, but don’t make it to Ranger School, may get other opportunities for growth, such as Fort Hood’s Air Assault School.