Adrian Bonenberger is the author of "Afghan Post," a memoir about his years as an infantry officer in the U.S. Army. Along with three other veterans, he co-edits Wrath-Bearing Tree, an military-intellectual site. Most recently, he spent the summer reporting on the war in Ukraine. This fall he will lecture at Yale University.
When Donald Trump tweeted a ban on transgender people serving openly in the military this week, he cited “the tremendous medical costs” of treating transgender troops as a reason for excluding them from the ranks. A writer for the Washington Post quickly surfaced an old report that the military spends $84 million a year on Viagra, Cialis, and other erectile dysfunction medication to service members and retirees. The Post opened a floodgate: Writers and social-media gadflies critical of Trump’s half-baked transgender tweets pounced on the Department of Defense’s “male enhancement” expenditures to highlight a double standard. This involved a lot of well-intentioned commenters making a lot of easy E.D. jokes.
Deadspin, which I read with more and greater devotion than I ever consumed The New York Times, just came out with an interesting take on Jan. 31 titled “Don’t Join the Military.” It goes something like this: All the benefits of joining the military no longer outweigh the fact that Donald Trump is now in charge, so no one should join the military. With all due respect to the author, Hamilton Nolan, he got this one wrong.
For what it’s worth, Mountain Phase was my least favorite in Ranger School, and the phase where I saw the most good Ranger candidates get hurt or recycled. Sleep deprivation and hunger have begun taking a toll, physically and emotionally. Injuries happen where they wouldn’t have otherwise as you keep pushing yourself beyond the limits with which you’re comfortable. Unstable students who would seem fine under normal circumstances begin behaving erratically.
When you hear graduates reminiscing about Ranger School, most people talk about how tough Mountain Phase was, or how they almost failed in Florida. However, Benning Phase, the first of the three phases, is no walk in the park, either. In fact, over 60% of Ranger candidates fail this phase. But if you can adjust to the reality of not eating, not sleeping, and getting the piss smoked out of you while waiting to perform some difficult and often humiliating tasks, you have a pretty good chance of making it through.
In the regular Army, there’s one school that stands out from all the others. One school that guarantees you an audience with your boss on favorable terms, that immediately establishes you as a person worthy of respect. A school with no ranks, no preferential treatment, no “double standards,” where everyone is subject to the same terrifying ordeal: Ranger School. Fifty percent wash-out rate. Two months of pain, torture, humiliation, sleep deprivation and hunger for the 20-25% of the candidates who make it through without recycling. More months for everyone else.