By Capt. Holli Nelson, West Virginia National GuardJune 28, 2019
CHARLESTON, W. Va. - It's no surprise when first seeing U.S. Army Capt. Richard Payne that he is the 'go-getter' type. He exudes confidence through his demeanor and is physically ready to meet and challenge. He also happens to sport two tabs on his left shoulder - a Sapper tab, and newly added Ranger tab, which he earned June 20, at Ft. Benning, Georgia.
Payne, an engineer officer who grew up in Clarksburg, West Virginia, is a five-year member of the West Virginia Army National Guard (WVARNG) who has served with both the 119th Sapper Company and 1092nd Engineer Battalion as he has made his way through the ranks.
After graduating from West Virginia University with his degree in business management in 2012, he later felt a calling to join the military and earned his commission into the WVARNG through federal officer candidate school in 2015.
From that point on, Payne has been setting and achieving rigorous goals as a leader in the WVARNG.
Soon after finishing basic officer leader course to become an engineer, then 2nd Lt. Payne was in route to the Sapper Leader Course at Ft. Leonardwood, Missouri. Sapper school is a 28-day course designed to train joint-service leaders in small unit tactics, leadership skills, and the tactics required to perform as part of a combined arms team. It is often considered one of the most challenging courses the U.S. Army has to offer, outside of Ranger school and Special Forces qualification. Payne described the course as being baptized by fire.
"When I went into Sapper school, I didn't have a huge grasp of the Army as a whole," Payne recalled. "You somewhat hold on once you get there. There is always the saying that if you aren't the smartest guy in the room, you need to be the strongest and the toughest. So when I went, I felt like I was that guy. I would carry anything that needed to be carried or do anything I could for anybody, and I just did my best to write down and take any notes I could to try and keep up."
After completing Sapper school and earning his tab, Payne continued to set goals and carried a mindset with him for performing his duties each day.
"I always try to keep that mindset that you should always be prepared to go and do anything at any time that falls in your job set," he said. "So for me, mentally and physically, I try to keep myself at that readiness level at all times."
After working for a few years as a traditional Guardsman, Payne decided to test his limits once more and started training for U.S. Army Ranger School. As there aren't many Soldiers who are dual tabbed with both a Sapper and Ranger tab, Payne wanted to prove to himself and others that he could compete at any level with any Solider, regardless of whether they were an active component, National Guard or Reserve.
"The [National] Guard is just as well equipped to fight at any point in time as any of our active duty counterparts," he said. "And I know that I could compete against any active duty counterpart at any point in time."
Earlier this year, he set off to attempt Ranger School and on June 20, he accomplished his goal, graduating the school as one of 84 who completed the course out of 411 who tried. He now joins the ranks of a small fraction of Soldiers who have both completed Sapper and Ranger school.
Payne described each school as different but equally challenging in their own way, saying that in his mind, the school you attend first seems to be the hardest.
"Ranger [School] is longer, so it takes more out of your body by just how it wears you down," he explained. "But for me, every day in Sapper school was hard."
While each school was challenging in and of itself, Payne stated that by staying focused on the real reason a Soldier is seeking to accomplish their goal, whether it be Sapper or Ranger school, they can truly overcome anything they're willing to focus their mind on.
With two significant accomplishments under his belt in his short time in service, Payne gives credit to his mentors, which include Maj. Chris Parker and Maj. Bryan Pauley, who work with him full-time in on the West Virginia National Guard's Army Interagency Training and Education Center search and extraction team.
"Maj. Parker was my second commander that I worked under and he was extremely influential in my career as far as guiding me, not only as an officer but as a person as a whole," he said. "He talked to me about developing as a leader, and he put the desire in me to want to try to push the limits a little more."
Payne also has new goals in mind for the future, including hopes of a command where he can directly influence Soldiers in the engineering field and a long-term career in the WVARNG.
"I think you should always push to gain as much knowledge as you can, especially if you're in a leadership position where you are going to have to lead soldiers and make life and death decisions for them," he said. "You should never be complacent in your knowledge so that when the opportunity presents its self where you can push to be more proficient in your field, you should always do that."
Up next for this Soldier is the hope of completing Airborne School and continuing to set an example for his Soldiers and those around him.