Wearing Royal Thai Army (RTA) fatigues and black leather boots, a U.S. Army Green Beret wades waist deep through a swamp carrying a heavy rucksack and an old-fashioned Mannlicher M1888 bolt-action rifle. With soaked feet and pain spreading through tired muscles, there are still miles left to trudge.
The night prior, he slept an hour because of a successful patrol in the swamps. On nights where the patrols are unsatisfactory, he’s lucky for a half hour of uninterrupted sleep in the quagmire. Twenty-two hours out of the day are devoted to patrolling.
The other 72 days of the RTA Ranger School are just as relentless. Earning the Royal Thai Army Ranger Badge is a grueling effort, but high attrition rates are unusual for the course. The candidates rely on one another to push each other through to the end, whether it means carrying another’s rucksack for five weeks due to a broken ankle or a quick nudge to awaken a tired teammate.
From Oct. 17 to Dec. 29, 2020, a Green Beret with 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne) attended the RTA’s Ranger School in the Kingdom of Thailand and earned the Thai Ranger Badge along with recognition as the course’s distinguished graduate.
Furthermore, he became the first U.S. servicemember to attend in more than 40 years, and the first to graduate the course in its modern form.
Life changing is what Ranger School is, the Green Beret said. You can’t write or call your family back home; here, your family are your brothers and instructors.
The Green Beret was recognized as a valued teammate whom instructors came to rely on. As the course progressed, instructors placed him in key positions to facilitate the successful completion of missions within his platoon.
“It’s a lifetime bond here,” he said. “I will always remember these guys and I will always keep in contact with them. It’s like brother-to-brother mentorship.”
Ranger School consists of different phases: mountain, forest, swamp, maritime and urban combat. In each phase, a candidate is assessed on the positions of squad or platoon leader, medic, pace man and map, and compass man.
“As a Green Beret, we’re supposed to be masters of the basics,” the Green Beret said. “This course took me back to the basics. For instance, navigating off one map per platoon…In an [Operational Detachment Alpha], you have eight maps plus GPS.”
To pass RTA Ranger School, you must compose operations orders and lead squad or platoon-sized elements on missions. All interactions between teammates and instructors are in Thai.
“You have to be fluent in this language,” he said. “The instructors don’t speak English and there are no translators here.”
As well as being fluent in Thai, the Green Beret is U.S. Army Ranger qualified and drew a contrast between U.S. and RTA Ranger Schools.
In U.S. Army Ranger School, a severe enough injury would result in a medical drop from the course, he said. At Thai Ranger School, instructors encourage Ranger Buddies to help one another by shouldering the weight of an injured soldier.
The course was comprised of students from U.S. Army Special Forces, Royal Thai Army, Royal Thai Police, Royal King’s Guards, and the Royal Thai Special Mission Unit. Of the 198 who started the course, 187 graduated.
According to the award write up given by the RTA, the Green Beret’s conduct demonstrates the value the U.S. Army places on equal partnership in support of the U.S.-Thai alliance. His performance set the example for future U.S. Army attendees to the RTA’s Ranger School.
“It's not so much what he gives to my formation, but what he gives to our entire force at-large in that he is a tactical and cultural diplomat for our country and Army,” said the Soldier’s Company Commander from 1st SFG (A). “The skills that he comes back with and the relationships he forged while there will better prepare both countries to operate with each other for our mutual defense.”