FORT PICKETT, Va. — “Leadership, the most essential element of combat power, gives purpose, direction, and motivation in combat. The leader balances and maximizes maneuver, firepower, and protection against the enemy.”
This is the first lesson of the Ranger handbook, establishing the virtue as the foundation for the 60-day course. The school has a grim and proud reputation as the United States Army’s premiere combat leadership course. Only the most dedicated and capable Virginia National Guard Soldiers are asked to prepare for the Fort Benning-based school. Those who persevere through the course return to their units not just with a tab, but proven knowledge on how to lead Soldiers into battle however difficult the circumstances may be, and distribute their knowledge throughout their unit.
After three and a half grueling months Sgt. Clyde Cargill, a squad leader of Leesburg-based Company C, 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, pinned on his Ranger tab Dec. 5, 2014. Four months later, the 27-year-old Arlington resident was back at his unit leading other Soldiers on battle drills and radio functions.
Over the last six years the school has had a fifty percent graduation rate. Cargill attributes his successful completion to rigorous physical training preparation and the help of fellow Company C Soldiers such as Sgt. 1st Class Jeremy Brink.
Cargill says Brink spent hours teaching him to tie knots that would make or break him during the Mountain Phase of the course. Brink gave him his old Ranger handbook complete with notes and walked him through day-by-day what to expect so Cargill could mentally prepare himself.
“I was glad to pay it forward after all the help I had received from Sgt. 1st Class Denver Claywell, another Ranger-qualified Soldier of 3rd Battalion,” said the 32-year-old Sterling resident.
“The biggest thing that I focused on was PT, running four times a week and lifting weights,” said Cargill. “For anyone going to Ranger School I would recommend just getting in the best shape that you could possibly be in because the physical requirements don’t stop. For a lot of people it catches up with them, but I felt I trained enough that my body could physically handle the demands.”
Soldiers shouldn’t spend too much of their prep time on writing operations orders, patrol guidelines, etc., because they will teach you thoroughly exactly how they want you to perform, said Brink.
What surprised both Brink and Cargill most about their experience was how hard it was even though they were both well prepared.
“Even during my combat deployments to Iraq, I’ve never been as tired or hungry as I was in Ranger School,” said Cargill. “The food deprivation and sleep deprivation combined with the physical and mental demands will show you what you are made of and what you are truly capable of.”
“Ranger School teaches you a lot of leadership and prepares you for the fundamentals of small unit leadership, grounding you in base skills necessary to be successful in combat,” said Capt. Brandon Price, commander of Company C.
Price earned his tab in May 2008 as a young officer on his way to lead Soldiers in the 101st Airborne Division in Fort Campbell, Ky. But Ranger-qualified Soldiers are necessary at more than just the enlisted level.
“When you put that knowledge at the team, squad and platoon levels and it makes everyone more effective,” said Price. “They bring all that back to the unit, spread that knowledge and those leadership skills, and make the units better as a whole.”
Between the Iraq and Afghanistan wars over the last 14 years, many Virginia Guard Soldiers have gained true experience leading troops into battle. Ranger School provides Soldiers an additional set of experiences to enhance their leadership abilities.
“As a combat veteran, I thought how can you tell me how to lead people in combat when I’ve already done it, but you don’t know what kind of war you’re going to be fighting next,” said Cargill. “Ranger School has a very specific set of principles you can apply for whatever type of war you’re in. You learn how to lead Soldiers in the most difficult circumstances possible.”
Those Soldiers who rise to the task when asked to embark on this grueling journey and persevere to earning their tab, are rewarded with many benefits.
“It’s going to make their unit better, it makes them better as a Soldier and leader, and helps them advance their military career,” said Price. “It’s a mark of dedication that shows a guy has made that commitment and persevered and so it definitely plays into considerations for promotions.”