Sitting through a piano rehearsal as an anxious eight-year-old, Kaya Manizade never imagined himself one day paddling through the Santa Rosa Sound with dozens of Rangers cheering him on in his final few days before graduating the U.S. Army’s toughest, most grueling leadership course.
Now at age 25, 1st. Lt. Manizade serves as a military intelligence officer at Fort Stewart, Georgia, with 3rd Infantry Division and proudly displays his recently-earned Ranger Tab on his shoulder. He is one of only 22 military intelligence officers from across the Army to graduate from Ranger School in fiscal year 2021, becoming one of only 11 total Soldiers from his Division to earn the coveted tab over the last year.
Born in Salisbury, Maryland, in 1996, Manizade loved music from an early age. He was eight when he first convinced his parents to let him take piano lessons. Throughout his years in school, Manizade continued to play the piano. Even after graduating high school in 2014, he played whenever he could. He asserts that being a performer helped condition him to rise to other challenges, such as Ranger School.
“It honestly taught me a lot about overcoming anxiety and fear,” said Manizade.
After graduating high school, Manizade was selected to attend the United States Military Academy at West Point, a momentous honor to the aspiring officer.
“I think I felt attracted to the history and the sense of tradition at West Point,” he said. “It seemed academically rigorous and prestigious and that really appealed to me.”
Manizade balanced schoolwork with his love for music while attending West Point. He enjoyed taking lessons on weekends with the academy’s music instructor. He called the experience, “incredible.”
He graduated in 2018 with degrees in both history and German. He then attended the Military Intelligence Basic Officer Leaders Course at Fort Huachuca, Arizona. Then he was stationed at Fort Stewart.
As an intelligence officer, Manizade’s job is to gather information that can save the lives of Soldiers on the front line. Since intelligence work is mostly mental, he wanted to find a way to challenge himself physically. He chose Ranger School.
“It sounded like an incredible challenge,” he said. “That appealed to me very much.”
It wasn’t long before Manizade was loading up his bags for 62 days of some of the most intense, physically-challenging training the Army has to offer.
“I think the hardest part was at the beginning and knowing how long I was going to be there and how long I was going to have to steel myself against the conditions we were in,” said Manizade.
During Ranger School, Soldiers are stripped of normal privileges and lose stress relievers that help after a long, hard day. For Manizade, this meant no music to help relax.
“Everyone felt the music withdrawal,” said Manizade. “You end up all singing together.”
While stuck in the middle of the swamps during a field training exercise, a Ranger School chaplain brought his guitar for a religious service. The chaplain played a few songs for the Soldiers.
“He let some of the Rangers play,” said Manizade. “It was a really amazing surprise.”
One of the students’ last tasks in Ranger School is to travel to their mission objectives by boat through Florida’s Santa Rosa Sound. About a dozen boats filled with exhausted future Rangers paddled eagerly toward the punishing course’s end.
“We knew that this was the last mission,” said Manizade. “We knew we would finally be done and that was exciting.”
Manizade graduated and became a Ranger on July 16, 2021. He finished the U.S. Army Airborne School at Fort Benning, Georgia, the following month. Manizade’s best friend watched as he had his wings pinned onto his uniform.
“I’m really proud of him,” 1st Lt. Sai Kumar, a flight operations officer with 4th Battalion, 3rd Aviation Regiment, 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade, 3rd ID. “I knew he was capable of Ranger School and I was very excited when he graduated.”
One of the first things the newly-minted Ranger did after graduating was “zone out” to some well-deserved music.
“Listening to music after coming back from the field is a great experience,” he said. “It gives you a chance to really appreciate even the simplest harmonies and sounds. I’m incredibly grateful that I got the chance to go. It was truly an honor.”
As a Ranger School graduate, Manizade now serves as a role model for other military intelligence Soldiers aspiring to attend the school.
According to the Airborne and Ranger Training Brigade website, nearly half of the reporting students won’t graduate Ranger school.
“The U.S. Army Ranger School is one of the toughest training courses in the Army and requires students to effectively lead squads and platoons under great mental and physical stress,” said Lt. Col. Christopher McCarver, the assistant chief of staff for intelligence for 3rd ID. “By completing this course, 1st Lt. Manizade demonstrated his leadership abilities and will now take what he has learned and pass it to those serving alongside him in his unit.”
Although he started off as a nervous eight year-old-pianist, Manizade has grown into an Airborne Ranger and military intelligence officer. Throughout this transition, his love of music has never waned.
“I want to continue to serve others, whether that be in the military or not,” said Manizade. “I want to continue to challenge myself and pursue what interests me.”