KENT, Wash. – The first Washington National Guard graduate from the Ranger Team Leader Initiative has been making an impact in 3rd Battalion, 161st Infantry Regiment.Ranger school is the U.S. Army’s premier leadership school. It trains members how to lead Soldiers in harsh environments. Attaining a Ranger qualification at an early stage of military service can strengthen the Soldier’s prospects for advancement, create heightened satisfaction with their National Guard service, and lead to their choosing to re-enlist, thus helping the Guard retain exceptional NCOs.The Guard believes that by having more Ranger-qualified leaders in the junior ranks, especially junior – primarily team leaders and squad leaders – can increase unit readiness at the company and battalion levels. This is evident by the impact Pfc. Benjamin Gauthier has already had on his company.“Gauthier has impacted Bear Company, 3rd Battalion, 161st Infantry Regiment, through his contributions of leadership, technical and tactical experience that extends beyond that which is typically expected of a Soldier in completing initial entry training,” said Capt. Trey Botten. “He has significantly contributed to establishing a high, yet realistic standard for other junior enlisted Soldiers to aspire and train toward.”The Ranger Team Leader Initiative identifies exceptional Soldiers during Fort Benning’s entry-level infantry one-station unit training (OSUT). Infantry OSUT has two parts: basic combat training, followed by advanced individual training that qualifies the graduates as basic infantrymen. Following graduation from AIT, they receive pre-ranger training at the Warrior Training Center and go on to Ranger school.There are three phases of Ranger School: darby, mountain and swamp. These phases test the Soldier’s capabilities in different terrain and level of leadership. Gauthier said his favorite phase of Ranger School was Florida (swamp) phase.“Florida phase is where we were doing the most complex operations, and the platoon was given a lot of flexibility in our planning and execution of missions, which provided excellent training,” said Gauthier. “The camaraderie that I experienced with the other students was excellent and showed what great teamwork can accomplish.”Soldiers that graduate from their initial entry training typically spend a year or two at their unit and get practical experience as a member of a fire team and such. Only then do they take on Ranger School, if ever.Graduating from Ranger School before gaining that experience makes those Soldiers a valuable resource of information, and able to teach other recruits in a more peer-like climate.“Before I joined my unit, I was assigned to the readiness Soldier program,” said Gauthier. “There I had the opportunity to give a class on patrolling and reacting to contact to 15 Soldiers who were preparing to ship out to basic training.”This example of leadership from a junior member of a unit is exactly what RTLI hopes to bring to the National Guard.“One of the biggest lessons that I learned was focusing on accomplishing the mission, never slacking, and always pay attention to details,” said Gauthier.For more National Guard news: http://www.nationalguard.mil/National Guard Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TheNationalGuard/National Guard Twitter: https://twitter.com/usnationalguard