Ranger School is the Army's toughest course and the premier small unit tactics and leadership school. The COVID-19 pandemic has added to the difficulty, but it did not stop three 3rd Infantry Division Soldiers from earning their tabs Nov. 12 at Fort Benning, Georgia.
Spc. Blayne Adams and Spc. Carl Siberski, both infantrymen, and Sgt. 1st Class Miguel Zarate, a Bradley Fighting Vehicle mechanic, all assigned to 1st Battalion, 64th Armor Regiment, 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, started training for Ranger School during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Typically, large group physical training events are necessary for a pre-Ranger program; however, these were not authorized due to the virus. These three Soldiers had to instead find innovative ways to hold each other accountable using technology.
"Our commander would give workouts for the week and we had to send in proof," said Siberski, a Clayton, Missouri, native. "We'd send a screenshot in the group chat, and it was nice because they still kept people accountable."
Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Hall, the senior enlisted advisor for 1st Bn., 64th AR, attributed a great deal of the training success to the Soldier’s company commander.
“Leaders such as Capt. Douglas Sparrow truly set the mark for the battalion’s pre-Ranger Course,” said Hall, whose unit is known as Rogue Nation. “He set the tone for all our Soldiers to be a part of something bigger than themselves and strive for excellence. The program’s focus was never to be centered around only combat arms Soldiers: in Rogue Nation, we all wear the uniform and we all strive to better ourselves.”
Over the summer, performing Ranger Training Tasks and getting the physical examines necessary for Ranger School proved difficult with COVID-19 safety precautions, said Adams.
“Ranger-qualified leaders came together and designed a comprehensive 12-week program that would provide focus to battle rhythm and required mission preparedness, pay mind to the value of leader-invested PT with their organic companies, but also consolidate our motivated Soldiers to a competitive and ambitious environment,” explained Sparrow. “We could not have predicted the impact that COVID-19 would have on the original concept, but the cadre would not allow it to deter them and the Soldiers remained as engaged as ever.”
Sparrow explained it was a group effort to ensure the Soldiers had what they needed for success. Training cadre like 1st Lt. Zachary Hobson and 1st Lt. David Stanley oversaw much of the daily management of the program, intuitively and creatively finding ways to maintain training and contact participants through distributed means.
A Google drive containing workouts and recovery techniques was created. Cadre led online workouts, and maintained constant digital interaction with the trainees for accountability. Weekend volunteer workouts and the unit’s "Rogue Sunday seven-mile" fun runs were attended while adhering to necessary COVID-19 distancing requirements.
Seeing the Soldiers succeed was not surprising, but was an important proof of concept for the unit and evidenced the fact that they could train up their Soldiers for an extremely challenging real-world school despite the global pandemic.
“Performance on demand, no matter the mission, is foremost in our mind,” Sparrow said. “Making the time for pain now, to succeed later, through sweat equity and shared suffering, has forged a group and mindset unlike any other.”
"I started preparing in June; I was told I was going in August," said Adams, a Houston, Texas, native. "COVID-19 prevented people from getting their physicals in time, so I was slated for a July start date — way earlier than I was expecting."
Quarantining prior to Ranger School provided a unique opportunity for the Dogface Soldiers to prepare.
"For those two weeks, we didn't have any interaction with anybody else," said Zarate, an Alice, Texas, native who serves as a mechanic in the unit. "That gave us time to eat right, have a good night's sleep and workout for two weeks. You wouldn't get that kind of lucky hand if it were regular operations."
Mechanics are not a military occupational specialty that one might normally expect to see graduating from one of the Army’s most grueling schools.
“Sgt. 1st Class Zarate is an exceptional mechanic and an even more exceptional leader,” said Hall. “I believe Zarate wanted to better himself while setting an extreme example for his Soldiers.”
The battalion had a total of four rangers graduate in the last seven months alone. Sgt. William Gagliardi, a combat medic, also recently earned his tab.
For Zarate and the others, Ranger School was a chance to grow and develop as both Soldiers and leaders, and graduating the school is an experience that Zarate hopes others will strive to attain.
"I think Soldiers should go to Ranger School because it gives them that experience of being a leader," said Zarate. "It was nice to sit back and let younger Soldiers step up and make those leadership decisions; to be a follower of the Soldiers for a while was humbling as well."
Not only did the Dogface Soldiers hold each other to a high standard during the train-up in extraordinary circumstances, but they also kept each other motivated at Ranger School.
"My best advice would be to have a battle buddy group or a battle buddy pair,” said Zarate. “There's gonna be times when you're going to want to quit, and there's going to be times where you just need that motivation. It always helps to have somebody there with you — especially a familiar face."
The newly-tabbed trio moved on to the next challenge of their careers together as well, joining their battalion on the ongoing mission in the Republic of Korea. The 1st ABCT is currently deployed as part of a regular rotation of forces to support the United States’ commitment to Southeast Asia partners and allies.
For the command team of the Ranger School graduates, their Soldiers’ performance showed a high level of dedication and effort, which they hope others will strive to emulate.
“It is difficult to put into words how truly proud I am of these Soldiers,” said Hall. “Their individual commitment to excellence very much paves the way for Rogue Nation excellence. What these Soldiers may not realize just yet is that what they have achieved has impacted the entire Army; they have made the Army stronger.”