JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii -- A small formation of Airmen gather around a flagpole, next to it is a large rock with the words, “Not for the weak or fainthearted” painted in bright yellow, box letters. An authoritative voice can be heard, “Varela, first stanza. Fundis, second stanza. Dickerson, third stanza. Gardner, fourth stanza. Pace, fifth stanza. Good, sixth stanza.” As six Airmen are chosen, they make their way to the front of the formation and stand face-to-face with their peers – three Airmen on either side of a pedestal.
The first Airman steps back and walks to the platform. He steps up, snaps to attention, takes a deep breath, closes his eyes, and with a booming, prideful voice yells, “FIRST STANZA OF THE RANGER CREED REPEAT AFTER ME!”
Silence falls on the entire camp. Varela continues, “RECOGNIZING THAT I VOLUNTEERED AS A RANGER …” the formation repeats the first seven words to the Ranger Creed.
“…fully knowing the hazards of my chosen profession, I will always endeavor to uphold the prestige, honor, and high esprit de corps of the Rangers.”
Twenty-three Airmen from across the Air Force recently converged on a training camp for a three-week Ranger Assessment Course near Schofield Barracks, Oahu, Hawaii. The purpose of the 19-day course is to prepare, assess and evaluate Air Force candidates for Army Ranger School at Fort Benning, Georgia.
The Airmen who pass the Ranger Assessment Course gain more than a ticket into Ranger School and knowledge on Army tactics – they learn to lead.
“The benefits of having a Ranger-qualified Airman is really easy to understand,” said Air Force Lt. Col. Walter Sorensen, Air Force Security Forces Center chief of training. “If we’re talking about being able to put Airmen in a location where they are expected to operate in an isolated environment with minimal to no guidance, you’re looking for an opportunity for someone who is not going to look for a reason to say, ‘this is just an impossible task.’ [Ranger qualified Airmen] are going to find a way to get it done … they will not give up on you.”
As the first Airman finishes his assigned stanza, he steps off the podium and returns to his spot. The Airman standing next to Varela then steps back and takes his position. “SECOND STANZA OF THE RANGER CREED REPEAT AFTER ME,” thunders Fundis. The rest of the class prepares to deliver the second stanza flawlessly.
“Acknowledging the fact that a Ranger is a more elite Soldier who arrives at the cutting edge of battle by land, sea or air, I accept the fact that as a Ranger my country expects me to move further, faster and fight harder than any other Soldier.”
For this iteration of the Ranger Assessment Course, the Air Force collaborated with the U.S. Army 25th Infantry Division, Small Unit Ranger Tactics Program – their version of a pre-Ranger course – to gain a better understanding for the way the Army prepares their candidates for Ranger School.
The Small Unit Ranger Tactics Program takes a build-up approach, which enables those going through the course to get more training and a better understanding of what they will be evaluated on later.
“We found over the years we needed to invest more time into training the Airmen on the front end before we evaluate them,” said Chief Master Sgt. James Wilfong, 820th Base Defense Group superintendent from Moody Air Force Base, Georgia. “The Army has given us upward of 20 to 30 slots a year, so we need to take a different approach on how we test and evaluate our Airmen. That’s why we’re here because they take a very different approach where they will spend a lot of time training them and build up their knowledge.”
The 25th ID Small Unit Ranger Tactics Program has a high success rate in preparing students to successfully complete the Ranger Assessment Phase, along with the Darby Phase of Ranger School, which is the patrolling phase of the course.
“Every day is going to be a challenge,” said Army Staff Sgt. Silverio T. Perez, Jr. 25th ID Small Unit Ranger Tactics Program senior instructor. “The difference between you and the person giving up is, are you willing to take the next step forward? Everyone is going to hit their breaking point, but what’s going to make the difference is that next step forward.”
During the Ranger Assessment Phase [RAP] day one, students are required to complete 49 push-ups, 59 sit-ups, a five-mile run in 40 minutes, and six chin-ups, then they move on to the Combat Water Survival Assessment. After the RAP, – which lasts four days – generally, less than half the class will make it to the Darby Phase.
Stressing them out physically and mentally challenges the students and their ability to lead.
“Ranger School is a leadership course, plain and simple,” Wilfong said. “What it gives you is a very resilient Airman, it gives you someone who can problem solve, and who doesn’t get stressed out very easily. They have been tested at their weakest and they have overcome.”
The Hawaiian sun continues to beat down on the Airmen as they make their way through the Ranger Creed, beads of sweat begin forming on their foreheads. The Dickerson takes his position, rolls his shoulders back, inhales and roars, “THIRD STANZA OF THE RANGER CREED REPEAT AFTER ME!”
“Never shall I fail my comrades. I will always keep myself mentally alert, physically strong and morally straight, and I will shoulder more than my share of the task whatever it may be, 100 percent and then some.”
Throughout the Ranger Assessment Course, Airmen were tested on their ability to perform land navigation, ambush, react to contact and squad attacks. Along with those assessments, the students went on runs and marches of different distances – all leading up to a 12-mile ruck march two days before graduation.
“You learn a lot about yourself when you are put to the test, mentally and physically,” said Tech. Sgt. Christian Varela, Ranger Assessment Course student. “I think Ranger School, and just RAC in itself, gives you the opportunity to be in positions to learn to lead. It’s obviously a leadership course, but it teaches you to be a good follower, as well.”
Dripping sweat, every single Airman stands at attention. A bead rolls down the temple of Gardner as he commands the attention of those around him, “FOURTH STANZA OF THE RANGER CREED REPEAT AFTER ME!” Once again, the class repeats line-by-line the fourth stanza with such power and intensity it echoes in the distance.
“Gallantly will I show the world that I am a specially selected and well-trained Soldier. My courtesy to superior officers, neatness of dress and care of equipment shall set the example for others to follow.”
Of the 23 Airmen who began the Ranger Assessment Course, three dropped out for personal motivational reasons and one dropped for medical reasons, leaving 19 standing at the end. Out of the 19, 11 Airmen met all the standards needed for a recommendation to go to Ranger School.
With two more stanzas to go, Pace stands before his peers with confidence. “FIFTH STANZA OF THE RANGER CREED REPEAT AFTER ME!” he booms.
“Energetically will I meet the enemies of my country. I shall defeat them on the field of battle for I am better trained and will fight with all my might. Surrender is not a Ranger word. I will never leave a fallen comrade to fall into the hands of the enemy and under no circumstances will I ever embarrass my country.”
Proving this course is truly a leadership course and not just for any one specific job in the Air Force, those who got a pass into Ranger School include Airmen from tactical air control party, security forces, remotely piloted aircraft pilot, air liaison officer, intel, and independent duty medical technician specialty codes.
“Layered throughout the National Defense Strategy, it [outlined] joint warriors, joint fighters, joint training and joint environments,” Wilfong said. “The future of warfare and near-peer threats would tell us we need more resilient, more joint-minded Airmen to get the job done in a contested or non-contested environment whether it’s permissive or non-permissive, we need more joint-minded Airmen.”
As the sun continues to beat down on the Airmen standing in formation, leaving them drenched in sweat. As the fifth Airman returns to his spot, the sixth steps back and takes his place on the pedestal, prepared to deliver his portion of the Ranger Creed with precision. Airman Good bows his head, closes his eyes and takes a deep breath before letting it out. He lifts his head, opens his eyes, snaps to attention, and with all his might thunders, “SIXTH STANZA OF THE RANGER CREED REPEAT AFTER ME!”
Once again the sounds echo off in the distance as each Airman stands tall, using their entire bodies to finish the creed, giving it their all – just like the past three weeks of training, they left nothing behind.
“Readily will I display the intestinal fortitude required to fight on to the Ranger objective and complete the mission though I be the lone survivor. Rangers lead the way!”