Ranger PT challenges field artillery students
June 27, 2013
FORT SILL, Okla. (June 27, 2013) -- Many Soldiers dread getting up for morning physical training; wishing instead they could stay in bed, but a few of Fort Sill's Soldiers voluntarily take PT to another level with the hopes of later making it to Ranger School.
The Pre-Ranger Course that Soldiers can volunteer for during the Field Artillery Basic Officer Leader Course here is approved by the U.S. Army Ranger School in Fort Benning, Ga., to find and prepare eager officers in training for Ranger School.
The top officers who complete the Pre-Ranger Course will get one of only a few Ranger slots they have to offer each class.
Each morning, Soldiers are dripping with sweat from the intense and grueling exercises they perform.
Workouts are different each day and include CrossFit-type drills with kettlebells and tire flips; long distance runs multiple times a week; sprints; ruck marches; obstacle courses; and chin ups, to name a few. All are done longer and faster than the average Soldiers would perform during PT.
"We walk out physically exhausted, but learn to recuperate fast and take on the next day," said 2nd Lt. Eric Shockley, a Soldier in the Pre-Ranger Course.
Sometimes Soldiers also come in Saturday mornings, or meet at 5 a.m. to get in longer ruck marches or workouts, because there isn't always enough time during regular PT hours.
"We're time constrained because of the demands of BOLC, so we try to focus on just the physical aspects; even though there is so much more to being a Ranger," said Capt. Jonathan Schwarz, 1st Battalion, 30th Feild Artillery, a volunteer Pre-Ranger Course instructor and student in the Captains Career Course here.
This is why the program is also called Ranger PT.
"For most of our workouts, we require they be physically demanding and include some kind of team building; so they're not only getting a good workout, but while they're tired they're having to do some difficult decision making," Schwarz said.
Soldiers are instructed by volunteers from the Captains Career Course who have been through the pre-Ranger program and Ranger School."
"We enjoy mentoring young lieutenants because we see ourselves in them ... so we jumped at the opportunity to volunteer," Schwarz said.
The requirements Soldiers must be able to complete by the end of the program consist of: two minutes of push-ups, where the chest must touch the ground; two minutes of sit-ups; a 5-mile run in less than 40 minutes; at least six chin-ups, where a rigid form is enforced; and a 15-mile ruck march in less than 3.5 hours.
Like Ranger School, it's an all-volunteer program and Soldiers can drop out any time, but will lose their chances of getting a slot.
Even though Soldiers who quit the program will not be able to go to Ranger School through the pre-Ranger program at BOLC, the PT is so grueling that more than two-thirds of the Soldiers who volunteered in the beginning generally dropped out.
"It's hard to see your brothers leave when you know they're solid Soldiers, so we try to motivate them because we are a team," Shockley said.
About a week or so into the program the Soldiers had their first ruck march when many quit the program.
"Our first ruck was 35 pounds for six miles, which I personally didn't think was horrible, but some people were struggling," Shockley said. "We had a ruck about a week and a half ago that was 40 pounds and eight miles timed, which was a lot of running and a lot more intense."
2nd Lt. Manuel Hernandez said he's not great at ruck marching, but it doesn't stop him from staying in the program because it's more of a mental game.
"It's going to hurt no matter what, but it's all about how much you want to put into it," Hernandez said.
Although likely disappointing for the Soldiers who can't make it through, this elimination process helps determine who will likely succeed at Ranger School if awarded a slot.
Though their pre-Ranger training is mostly physical, they are looking for Soldiers who also excel as leaders, said Capt. Matthew Bandi, who oversees the pre-Ranger program and is an infantry instructor at the Combined Arms Division, 30th Field Artillery.
"We want guys that demonstrate leadership qualities that will make them successful in Ranger School and in their units; somebody who can be a strong leader while they're physically exerting themselves," Bandi said.
For this cycle of Ranger PT, which started near the end of May, there are only five slots for around 100 Soldiers going through BOLC.
About 30 Soldiers initially signed up for Ranger PT, and took the Ranger Physical Fitness Test to see where they stood. Currently, with more than two more months of Ranger PT still to go, there are only five Soldiers remaining in the program.
"At the end of our pre-Ranger program we establish an order of merit list, and then if we get five slots, the top five guys will go," Bandi said.
Those are good odds for those who have stuck it through this Ranger PT course thus far, but there is not usually enough slots for those who finish. Generally, well over half of those who finish won't get slots, and this class may still lose some of its five slots.
Although it's a lot of hard work, and the odds are against Soldiers who volunteer, Bandi said he believes getting into Ranger School is very important; especially for new officers who will be heading to their duty stations afterward.
"It gives Soldiers an opportunity to go to a school, particularly for FA second lieutenants, that gives them credibility when they're working with infantry or armor units and develops a much, much more confident and competent field artillery leader," Bandi said.
Shockley said he agrees that Ranger School is important, but that even if he didn't get a slot, he is still getting a lot out of the program.
"It's a great program; a great way to prepare you physically, mentally and emotionally to take charge of Soldiers," Shockley said.
"It's also great that we get one-on-one time with captains; you get more of a mentorship during this program. Also, if we don't get slots here it will prepare us to get a slot from our future units."
Bandi said he encourages other Soldiers to come join Ranger PT; especially those in brigades with Ranger School slots.