The U.S. Army Ranger Course, commonly referred to as Ranger School, is the U.S. Army’s premier leadership course. Graduating from the two-month course is something most combat leaders strive for, and is unlike any other school in the military, transforming soldiers into the best leaders on the battlefield while enduring extreme field conditions.
“Ranger School is a crucible where an individual can get pushed to their mental and physical limits, yet in a controlled environment,” said 4th Ranger Training Brigade Command Sgt. Maj. John Marenda. “There are very few units that are capable of that internally. But even less so, very few units that exist for that express purpose.”
Graduate Ranger School and you’ve earned the right to wear the coveted Ranger tab on your left uniform sleeve. It’s not just a tab; it represents a milestone in your military career that means you are now the person everyone will look to when things get hard in both training and combat.
It’s no easy task to earn your tab, but it’s not impossible to graduate Ranger School either. There are a few things you should know before you head down to Fort Moore though.
A brief history of Ranger School
The Ranger Course was developed during the Korean War, with the first class starting in September 1950. Attendance was limited to infantry soldiers assigned to the Ranger companies re-established after the original six World War II Ranger companies were disbanded following the end of the war.
“What a lot of folks don’t know is the course originally started in 1950 with a different focus,” Marenda said. “It was originally established as the Ranger Training Command and was unit focused, less so than individual [soldier] focus.”
Ranger graduates would be assigned to one of the 17 Ranger Companies that stood up for the Korean War, with the first company arriving in Korea by December 1950. But, after the companies were again disbanded in October 1951, attendance was opened to other combat units. The first Ranger class of individual candidates graduated on March 1, 1952.
From 1954 to the early 1970s, the Army’s goal, though seldom achieved, was to have one Ranger-qualified NCO per infantry platoon and one officer per company. To better achieve this goal, the Army required all combat arms officers to become Ranger and Airborne qualified in 1954.
The Ranger Training Command became the Ranger Department, a branch of the Infantry School at Fort Benning, Georgia (present-day Fort Moore). The Ranger Department was reorganized into four Ranger Training Battalions under the command of the Ranger Training Brigade (RTB).
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In 2014, during an Army reorganization plan for Fort Moore, the Ranger Training Brigade was renamed the Airborne and Ranger Training Brigade. Each RTB runs a phase of Ranger School today while the airborne side of the brigade runs the basic airborne and jumpmaster courses.
Ranger School’s sole purpose was and always will be to develop small unit leaders under physically and mentally demanding stressors that forge some of the best leaders in America’s military.
Emphasis is placed on developing individual combat skills and abilities while implementing leadership principles. Ranger School candidates learn how to plan and conduct military operations at a small unit level. Graduates will then take their experience to their units to pass on these skills.
Ranger School has changed little since its inception, with the addition and subsequent removal of the “desert phase” in the late 80s and early 90s. Marenda said it’s a common criticism of the course. But, he pointed out that they have been implementing drones in the training to modernize the curriculum.
Candidates will “react to aerial contact,” where they execute a battle drill differently if they believe they are being observed versus unobserved. Marenda said they are still working on the doctrine but it’s an example of how they are changing to prepare leaders for the modern battlefield — modern problems require modern solutions, after all.
Though small changes are made as needed, Marenda argues major overhauls of the course are rarely necessary.
“There’s only so many ways that a ranger platoon can establish a base of fire and maneuver on the enemy, close with and destroy, reconsolidate, reorganize, put your rucks back on, and move out. I mean, there’s really only so many ways you can do that,” Marenda said. “To be honest, there hasn’t been a whole lot of change in KFC’s recipe either, but people are still digging it.”
How long is Ranger School?
Ranger School progresses through three phases over the course of about 62 days. Darby Phase and Mountain Phase will unfold in the woods and mountains of Georgia, and the final phase takes place in the coastal swamps of Florida.
Darby phase is about 21 days long, split into two parts, and takes place at Camp Rogers on Fort Moore. The first week is called Ranger Assessment Phase, commonly called RAP Week. Here, Ranger Instructors will put candidates through hell to weed out those not physically or mentally prepared for the rigors ahead.
Mountain Phase is 20 days at Camp Frank D. Merrill near Dahlonega. In this phase, candidates learn and hone their mountaineering skills and tactical prowess in a mountain environment.
Florida Phase is held at Camp Rudder, located on Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, for 21 days. It’s the final phase, where candidates reach their absolute limits both physically and mentally. They will learn waterborne operations and tactics, stream crossings, and how to survive and be tactically proficient while leading a small unit in a coastal swamp environment.
Mentally prepare yourself for the reality that many soldiers will have to repeat, or recycle one or more phases. The 4th RTB advises soldier’s leadership not to expect their soldier to return by a certain time, rather, they should adopt the mindset that soldiers are here until the mission is complete and the only mission is to earn the Ranger Tab.
Sgt. 1st Class Edward Duenas is a Ranger Instructor (RI) “walker” with C co., 4th RTB, and the senior tactical advisor to the brigade commander. He warned Ranger hopefuls about worrying about how many days they have left.
“There really isn’t one point in the course where people make it to and they’re good to go,” Duenas said. “We’ve had individuals who were stellar pretty much all the way through and then fail on the last day.”
Ranger School requirements
Anyone can attend Ranger School, including service members from allied countries. But they must meet the prerequisites by day zero of Ranger School. You’ll need to arrive with the mandatory documents, medical paperwork, items on the packing list, and a Ranger haircut.
Haircuts are defined as a head shaved with a pair of clippers with no attached guard. Candidates aren’t required to shave their hair down to the skin, but down to “stubble length.” The Ranger Physical Assessment (RPA) happens on day one of the course.
The fitness test requires candidates to complete at least 49 push-ups, 59 sit-ups, a 5-mile run in 40:00 minutes or less, and six chin-ups (note that it doesn’t say pull-ups). The RPA is immediately followed by a water confidence test which includes dropping into Victory Pond and swimming out.
Ranger candidates must be medically cleared to attend and you can find out which forms you’ll need to have filled out by the physicians conducting your physical and labwork studies here. A candidate needs to show up with the proper medical forms and documentation, otherwise they will be a medical drop.
Certain conditions can prevent you from attending Ranger School and are in line with the same conditions that make a soldier non-deployable. Examples of medical diagnosis that requires daily treatment or regular checks are diabetes I and II, ongoing conditions not responding to treatment like cancer, or any other non-deployable conditions described in Army Regulations.
Cold or hot weather injuries don’t stop candidates from attending but will dictate when a candidate can attend. Waivers can be obtained but most of the no-go conditions aren’t going to get waved due to the austere conditions students are subjected to from start to finish.
Previous heat injuries cannot start during the hottest months from April 15 to October 15, and previous cold weather injuries cannot start the course from October 16 to April 14. Soldiers attending during this timeframe are required to arrive with their annual flu shot already completed.
A common cause of candidates getting recycled or medically dropped is orthopedic injuries of the knees and ankles. The Army even warns on the Ranger School website that “everyone will get sprains, strains, bumps and bruises” and candidates must push forward regardless of the minor injuries, or be dropped.
Ranger School preparation
Candidates don’t need to know how to run the most cutting-edge technology or weapon systems that exist in the military before attending. Candidates come from some of the most elite special operations forces to the most basic soldiers in the Army can be successful at Ranger School.
“Not every unit in the Army is going to have [that equipment] so if our duty to the Army is to train leaders on the fundamentals of leadership and small unit tactics in a combat environment, then we will,” Marenda said. “If we were at the bleeding edge of modernization, I think we will be doing a disservice to the candidates because we owe that to them, to learn the fundamentals.”
But, Marenda explained they are constantly staying up to date on current warfare tactics being implemented, keeping an eye on conflicts in Ukraine, Israel, and other areas embroiled in war. If they see a new tactic implemented, they discuss it and consider changes in the training if it will help leaders in the future.
The very basic preparation that any candidate must do is show up in the best physical condition they can with a no-quit attitude. Some will argue that you should pack on an extra pound of fat or two, slow your metabolism ahead of time, and a variety of other potentially dangerous preparation methods, but that’s not needed or recommended.
Drop any addictions you have — you don’t want to get caught with any banned substances, as you can be dropped for even the most minor infraction. Soldiers have gone to great lengths to smuggle in some form of caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco — but it’s not worth it.
Make sure you square away your personal life, too. Not doing so will only compound the stress you experience during Ranger school.
Study up on land navigation during night and day. Some units hold preparation courses like the 25th Infantry Division’s Small Unit Ranger Tactics (SURT) program. The course takes Ranger School hopefuls through a physical and tactical preparation program. The Air Force has their own prep course for Ranger School as well, sending more airmen and Space Force guardians than ever before.
The main thing you need is a no-quit attitude. A lot of people think they have it, but once the lack of sleep, little food, and endless patrols start to take a toll, people find out what they are really made of.
What is Ranger School really like?
Less than half of the class will make it from RAP Week into the second part of the Darby Phase, often called the patrolling phase. Duenes said there’s only one way to summarize it.
“It’s gonna push the threshold of what you thought possible,” Duenes said. “But, by the end of it, you’re gonna see exactly what the human body is capable of.”
Candidates will undergo hot and cold environments in the Georgia mountains and woods and the Florida swamps. There will be nights of zero sleep, no food, and the stress of leading a team of other mentally and physically exhausted soldiers.
There’s no rank in Ranger School among the candidates. So if a leader is used to using their rank to inspire their soldiers, that won’t work during the course.
“Eventually, stressors begin to compound. Especially for individuals who aren’t used to taking guidance,” Duenas said. “They’re not used to following orders. They’re okay with giving instruction but they’re not okay with receiving it.”
When soldiers lose respect for you, good luck getting it back. Ranger candidates can peer review other candidates. So if you aren’t being a team player, you will likely find yourself “peered” out.
One way to avoid that is following the advice of retired Army Ranger Jariko Denman, who regularly gave away his MREs to fellow Ranger School hopefuls. But, no matter how strong of a candidate you are, any major character flaw you have will float to the surface.
“The course will expose your flaws. If you’re not a team player and not willing to help out your peer, or you’re not willing to go above and beyond for each other, the course will expose that,” Duenas said. “Eventually, that will get you in the end. Your buddies are going to call it out. You may not be the worst person in the world, but you’re not the strongest and they don’t see you being good enough to be a Ranger-qualified leader.”
Even if you show up prepared, are a team player, and are an overall top candidate at the beginning, you could still fail on that last day or halfway through. A variety of factors will impact whether you are a first-time go, recycled, or medically dropped.
Some candidates will be recycled at the end of a phase, meaning you’ll have to redo that same phase before moving on. It can be a very defeating moment, but if you accept your situation, your body will do anything you tell it to.
But the rewards for graduating are much more than the tab and certificate you receive.
“My attitude towards stressful situations has really simmered down. What would have normally stressed me out and what what would I have thought was too hard to handle really became so minute knowing I have done way more than what’s in front of me right now,” Duenas said. “So my tolerance for stress and dealing with difficult situations has greatly increased because of my experience range school.”
FAQs about Ranger School
You have questions, Task & Purpose has answers.
Q: Where is Ranger School?
A: Ranger School has three phases, each at a different location. Darby Phase is at Fort Moore, Georgia; Mountain Phase is at Camp Frank D. Merrill, Georgia (near Dahlonega); and Florida Phase is at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida.
Q: How hard is Ranger School?
A: It’s considered by many to be one of the most challenging courses in the military, but not the toughest.
Q: Can Marines attend Ranger School?
A: Yes, as long as their leadership agrees to send them. Many Marines have even been recognized to be the best in their class.
Q: Do you go to the 75th Ranger Regiment after you graduate?
A: No, not unless you are already assigned to the 75th Ranger Regiment. Ranger School graduates will return to their unit after the completion of the course. If you want to serve in the 75th, you’ll need to pass the Ranger Assessment and Selection Program I or II (depending on rank).
Q: Will I have to fight tigers at Ranger School?
A: No, but you will learn skills. Ranger skills. Like ruck marching, mountain tossing, super rappelling, parachuting, volleyball, and death blossoms.
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