No military unit carries more of a modern-day mythical reputation than the 75th Ranger Regiment, and in the Rangers, no man is more mythic than the Regimental Command Sergeant Major.
As he looked back to 1996, and the start of his career in the most elite special operations raid force the world has ever known, Command Sgt. Maj. Michael D. Albaugh, the 75th Ranger Regimental Sergeant Major (RSM), never would have pegged himself for the job.
"When I was a private in the Rangers, I was just trying to keep up with everybody physically and mentally, learn my job, and not get Released for Standards," Albaugh laughed. "The RSM? That's just some mystical creature out there somewhere. You know he exists, you heard about him, but you're never going to be that guy."
Yet it's exactly the position that Albaugh, who started out as an assistant gunner, working his way up through every major leadership position within the Regiment, meeting every challenge and rising to every occasion along the way, has held for the last two years.
As he prepares to relinquish his responsibility as the 75th Ranger Regiment's senior enlisted advisor later this week, he reflected on his time in one of the most professional, well-trained, and deadly special operations units in the U.S. military.
"I came into the Army a little bit later than most," Albaugh began. At 27 years old he had already gone to college, bouncing from job to job with nothing really catching his eye. But the Army had always been on his mind.
So, he started researching.
"This was back in the late 90s, so there wasn't a lot of information out there," Albaugh said. "Social media wasn't a thing, there wasn't a lot of public press, but I knew that there were these Army Rangers and that they were these elite, tough guys, and did this special mission."
That was all it took. The allure and mystique of the 75th Ranger Regiment had drawn him in.
"I just said, 'hey', if I'm going to go into the Army, I kinda want to try for something a cut above everybody else," he said. "I want to do something special and make my time in the Army mean a little bit more."
In an organization that prides itself on being so much more than merely a cut above the rest, Albaugh has managed to distinguish himself.
"The Regiment is a better place now because of CSM Albaugh," said Col. Todd Brown, the commander of the 75th Ranger Regiment, "not just from his service these past two years, but from his service the past two decades. CSM Albaugh has had a tremendous impact in combat operations, training, and growing the Ranger Regiment. He will continue to make a tremendous impact to the Joint Force in his pending assignment."
The 75th Ranger Regiment's culture is founded on high standards and discipline, a long and storied history of courage in valor in combat, and of course, the Ranger Creed. And while those are all vitally important, Albaugh says that what the culture truly thrives on is its people.
"We hire and assess and bring on and train the best people in the Army," he said, referring to the Ranger Assessment and Selection Program. "And being here for so many years, they really become family to you. Just about anybody who's ever left here, they almost always want to get back. They want to be around people they feel comfortable working with, who are like-minded individuals and are kind of all striving for excellence."
The measure of that excellence is what Rangers know as the "Big Five": Marksmanship, Physical Training, Medical Training, Small-Unit Tactics, and Mobility. They are the fundamentals that determine each Ranger's individual success as well as that of the Ranger mission. As a Regiment, the Rangers are relentless in their pursuit to constantly improve on each of the five pillars.
It not only makes them better warfighters, but in many cases the benefits carry over.
"The biggest impact we've had on the Army as a whole, I'd say, has been in the medical field," said Albaugh.
The 75th Ranger Regiment's Ranger O Low Titer (ROLO) Whole Blood Program was recognized by the Army Materiel Command as the individual military winner of the annual Army's Greatest Innovation Award in 2017.
"If you look across the Army, the best-trained and most capable medics that we have are in the Ranger Regiment. We're always training, always trying to stay at the cutting edge of how to best care for our Rangers and increase survivability on the battlefield. If you want to be the best medic you can be, then you want to be in the Ranger Regiment."
When asked how the 75th compares to other units around the Army, Albaugh was quick to point out his belief that every organization has their camaraderie, their band of brothers. So how are the Rangers different? A few things, he says. The "Big Five" for one, but also the requirement that every potential Ranger, regardless of rank or occupational specialty, must undergo a stringent assessment and selection process just to get in. Everyone must earn the right to wear the scroll and tan beret. And once selected, every Ranger is continuously assessed for the privilege to stay.
"That really kind of elevates the type of people that come and stay in this organization," said Albaugh. "I think that's a little of what sets us apart. This place brings out the best in its members because you're challenged every day. The good thing is there's plenty of people around you that are going to help you, they're not going to let you fail."
As Albaugh prepares to take the next step in his professional journey as an Army Ranger, there's one thing he wants past, current, and future Rangers to know.
"No matter whether you stay in the Ranger Regiment four years or 24 years, this will always be something you'll look back on in your life and be proud," Albaugh said. "It's a small portion of your life, but it'll mean so much.
"As well it should, because this isn't something that's easy. This isn't something that just anybody can do. And that's why it matters."
To join the 75th Ranger Regiment, contact recruiters at 75Recruit@socom.mil to begin the selection process. Or visit www.goarmy.com/ranger to learn more about the 75th Ranger Regiment.
Rangers Lead the Way!