Field Artillery School Command Sgt. Maj. Michael McMurdy meets with Sgt. Meranda Leisgang, a Wisconsin Army National Guard Soldier and field artillery instructor, during a recent leadership and capability visit to Fort McCoy’s Regional Training Institute. With eight institutes located around the country, active-duty and Guard Soldiers learn the same field artillery programs of instruction that is taught at the Field Artillery School at Fort Sill.
Field Artillery School Command Sgt. Maj. Michael McMurdy meets with Sgt. Meranda Leisgang, a Wisconsin Army National Guard Soldier and field artillery instructor, during a recent leadership and capability visit to Fort McCoy’s Regional Training Institute. With eight institutes located around the country, active-duty and Guard Soldiers learn the same field artillery programs of instruction that is taught at the Field Artillery School at Fort Sill. (Photo Credit: Courtesy photo) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT SILL, Oklahoma (Nov. 22, 2021) -- Field Artillery School Command Sgt. Maj. Michael McMurdy occupies a position of influence reaching out to field artillery Soldiers to impart his experience and wisdom. Graduating from Army Ranger School contributed to the knowledge, skills, behaviors, and experience he brought to his current duties.

His career began in August 1996 with basic training here followed by advanced individual training as a 13B Cannon Crewmember.

Twelve years of service passed with 30-year-old Sgt. 1st Class McMurdy serving as a firing platoon sergeant for 2nd Battalion, 17th Field Artillery at Joint Base Lewis McChord, Washington. His good soldiering caught the eye of his battery and battalion commanders who decided he was the right Soldier to send to Ranger School.

“It was nice my leadership thought enough of me and wanted to send me,” he said.

It turned out to be a phenomenal opportunity and a good investment in his professional development as an NCO. This was especially apparent since the only 13 series Soldiers who can serve in the Ranger Regiment are 13F Joint Fire Support Specialists.

McMurdy said he discussed the school with his wife – Miss Beth – as he referred to her with respect. All decisions affecting their family are weighed and decided together.

“The only thing she said was, ‘If you’re going to go do this, don’t come back without your (Ranger) tab,’” said McMurdy, who added he was so thankful for her constant support. “She believed in me when I probably didn’t believe in myself.”

The physical challenges of Ranger School are ever present and designed to be difficult. Those who attend have to go with a desire to stay in the course to its successful conclusion, he said.

“It’s very easy to say, ‘I quit,’ and they will be more than happy to let you go,” he said.

Arriving at Fort Benning, Georgia, he felt like an outsider, and that made the course all the harder. “First of all, I’m a Sgt. 1st Class. The majority of my classmates throughout the course were younger than me, not my military occupational specialty, and they were not enlisted.”

Sent in October 2007, McMurdy could have quit after he failed the land navigation test during the Ranger Assessment Phase. But he kept his options open and returned in May 2008.

“My chain of command believed in me enough to send me back,” he said. “I felt like I owed them a return on investment.”

Lacking the knowledge of basic infantry skills, McMurdy said he was also deficient in tactical expertise.

But one thing Ranger School does is strip any prestige of service branch, rank, or unit off each student. The only thing obvious to him was he was much older than his classmates.

“It was challenging to me professionally, personally, physically, and mentally the entire time,” he said.

He soon realized though the Ranger cadre tended to place him in leadership positions that platoon sergeants generally fill in the operational force. Even when he wasn’t placed into one of these positions, he found himself serving as an assistant to someone else plugged in as the platoon sergeant. For example, he became the medic, not a graded leadership position, but someone in the platoon who is right beside the platoon sergeant helping that person complete their duties.

Looking back on the experience and each hurdle overcome, McMurdy said, “there wasn’t a day that went by where I didn’t ask myself, ‘I’m a Sgt. 1st Class who’s an artilleryman, why am I here putting myself through this?’”

Mornings began with the dread that he did something wrong and would be dropped from the class, but that never happened. Instead he prepared himself for whatever new challenges awaited him.

While Ranger School is only 63 days for anyone who goes straight through, McMurdy said most either fail or get recycled because they didn’t meet a particular standard.

Back home following graduation he appreciated the acknowledgments from peers, his leaders, and his wife of what he achieved. But he added his Ranger qualification doesn’t define him as a Soldier.

“An Army Ranger, to me, is someone who wears or has worn the tan beret,” he said.

Today, he still feels the responsibility that comes with wearing the Ranger tab and sees it as being more difficult to earn it every day. He said there is an implied expectation that comes with wearing the Ranger tab.

“You run the risk of letting others down if you don’t meet those expectations,” he said.

How to succeed

For Soldiers interested in attending Ranger School, McMurdy said opportunities are more common now. Candidates have to be good Soldiers, and not just to meet the physical requirements, which he said are difficult for everybody.

“Their standards are published, so you can prepare yourself physically,” he said.

For those heading to the school, McMurdy’s advice is simple: Don’t quit. “If you quit at any time, you’re going to permanently close the door that you didn’t have to.”

Career progression.

He believes his Ranger School graduation in July 2008 immediately helped him with a promotion to master sergeant as his record would have showed his graduation certificate and additional skill identifiers.

With the added stripe, he took on the duties of a firing battery first sergeant.

Then, the impact became even more apparent as McMurdy was asked to fill an operations sergeant major position in an infantry battalion. With the new job also came the condition of deploying with his new unit to Afghanistan.

Next, he was selected to attend the Sergeants Major Academy, and after graduation became a battalion field artillery CSM at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. With that experience, once the brigade sergeants major list came out, he became an infantry brigade sergeant major instead of a division artillery sergeant major.

“I believe that was heavily influenced because I was Ranger qualified and I had served as an infantry battalion Sgt. Maj.,” he said. “That made me competitive with maneuver CSMs to serve as a brigade combat team CSM.”

Looking back to where his career split from the norm, McMurdy believes his Ranger qualification has provided him career opportunities that weren’t open to his peers and projected him on a different career path than many senior NCOs in the Field Artillery Branch.

He added that senior Army leaders look for Soldiers who continue to progress and the knowledge, skills, behaviors, and experience they will bring to a formation.

“Because I’ve served in maneuver and artillery formations, I have a bigger aperture that some in the knowledge and experience aspect,” he said.