Two former Rangers tag great white shark in memory of fallen Ranger

“I did two or three good pulls, and that's when I could see the shark, and dude, it was the most incredible thing I've ever seen in my life.” 
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Two former Rangers tagging a great white shark
Two former Rangers pulled in a Great White Shark to tag it in honor of fallen Ranger Kevin Pape. Photos courtesy of Jimmy Armel.

Former Army Rangers Eric Cox and Jimmy Armel went above and beyond to honor a fallen Ranger by catching and tagging the apex predator of the sea: a great white shark. It’s no easy task, but they closed the deal on their fifth shark during a 12-hour day on the water. 

“We had one line in, and we were prepping the second line — before we can even get the tag stick prepared — the line just ran,” Cox said. “We were both just looking at each other like, ‘No, freaking way, man. There’s no way. From there on, we were just kind of jumping through our asses, trying to get everything set up.”

The two medically retired Army Rangers battled the behemoth weighing in at over 1,000 pounds on Dec. 26. They weren’t looking to go toe-to-toe with the beast to make fish filets, though. They were on the water as part of Armel’s non-profit, Knot Lucky, which helps fellow combat veterans use fishing trips on the open ocean and the shark tagging program to overcome the ugly side effects of PTSD.

Cox is the second Ranger to tag a great white shark as a part of the program, with the first shark tag dedicated to Spc. Christopher Wright, who was killed in action during a raid in Afghanistan in 2010 while assigned to 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment.

It’s a team effort to pull in a massive shark. The great white had made it a quarter mile out before the Rangers had the tag stick ready. The tag stick is an aluminum stick with a GPS device attached and used to insert the tracker into a shark humanely.

While reeling in the shark, Armel’s fishing rod snapped, but the two fought on to the Ranger objective. Once the line was reeled up to the metal leader, Cox grabbed hold of the line and started pulling in the shark by hand — called ‘leadering.’ 

“I did two or three good pulls, and that’s when I could see the shark, and dude, it was the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen in my life,” Cox said. “This thing was literally two or three feet from me. The width of the boat is ten and a half feet, and it was a good two and a half feet longer than that.”

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One misstep with leadering and the massive shark can pull you in. Cox and Armel wouldn’t be able to cut the steel cable leader rated up to 1,500 lbs — and this was Cox’s first time doing it. The danger of drowning is very real at this stage of the tagging process.

“This is something people do in their second or third year fishing, and they start with small stuff,” Armel said. “This was Eric’s eighth time on the boat, and he pulled in an elite 1,000 lb. white shark in true Ranger fashion.”

Once the shark was pulled up alongside the boat, it thrashed for a while but suddenly became docile. Cox reached out and patted the shark on its nose, having a rare and therapeutic moment with one of the most feared ocean creatures on earth. That’s when Cox found out who they were dedicating the tag to. 

“We are naming this one, Kevin,” Armel said in the video. 

“Kevin fuck’n Pape, baby! I fucken love you, brother!” Cox shouted. 

Staff Sgt. Kevin Pape was a squad leader in 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, and was killed while conducting combat operations in the Konar Province of Afghanistan on Nov. 16, 2010. Cox was injured on that same mission. When Cox was flown out on a MEDEVAC helicopter, he had to face the gruesome reality of war, finding out his best friend was killed during the heavy fighting that day. 

13 years later, Cox has not forgotten. Both he and Armel described Pape as a “natural born leader” and a man loved by the Rangers he served with.  

“I immediately just lost control of my emotions, man. I was so freaking happy and just so excited to be able to do that for Kevin. It just meant so much to me,” Cox said, describing the experience with the shark. “I never told Kevin I loved him when he was with us, and I really wish I would have, man. I loved him so much.”

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