A blindfolded Pennsylvania National Guard Soldier leaps from the pier during the Combat Water Survival Test portion of the Ranger and Sapper Assessment Program at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania, April 22, 2022. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Keeler).
A blindfolded Pennsylvania National Guard Soldier leaps from the pier during the Combat Water Survival Test portion of the Ranger and Sapper Assessment Program at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania, April 22, 2022. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Keeler). (Photo Credit: Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Keeler) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT INDIANTOWN GAP, Pa. – Thirty Soldiers and Airmen attended the Ranger and Sapper Assessment Program April 21-24.

The purpose of RSAP is to assess service members who want to attend the Army’s Ranger or Sapper schools and prepare them for what they will face when they get there.

“The RSAP program is to get these individuals ready and get them in the right mental and physical state of mind of what they are going to encounter during week one of Ranger School,” said Staff Sgt. Paul Almquist, an RSAP instructor assigned to Joint Force Headquarters.

The service members were a mixture of Army and Air Pennsylvania National Guard, with one active-duty Airman.

This is the first step for the Pennsylvania National Guard troops working to go to Ranger School. After being selected by the cadre, the Soldiers/Airmen are sent to a two-week Ranger Training Assessment Course at the Army National Guard Warrior Training Center in Fort Benning, Georgia, to ensure they are prepared mentally and physically.

“Everyone can perform great with eight to nine hours of sleep, but when you cut that down to three or four, it gets a little more difficult,” said Almquist. “Through RSAP, we try to build that grit and endurance now so they can train and perform to go to Ranger School and succeed.”

During the first week of Ranger School, otherwise known as Ranger Assessment Phase (RAP) week, individuals are tested on everything from rucking to Ranger Task Training, said Almquist. Most of the people who drop out of Ranger School drop out during RAP week, so RSAP prepares individuals for what to expect the first week.

“Since funding and getting slots for RTAC can be difficult, and if a National Guard service member is unable to pass on their first attempt, that might be their only attempt,” said Sgt. 1st Class Erich Friedlein, noncommissioned officer in charge of RSAP. “So, if we are assessing and preparing service members here, then they are getting an idea of what to expect, and they are already prepared.”

On day zero, a travel day for most military schools, the challenge began for the service members. Bear crawls, tire flips, pushups, flutter kicks, sprints, low crawls and more conditioned the service members to think on their feet while under duress.

During these physical fitness sessions, service members learned what was expected of them during the assessment and how to accomplish those tasks.

The challenges the service members faced in RSAP included the combat water survival test (CWST), land navigation, a 12-mile ruck march, Ranger task training, Ranger fitness test and an obstacle course.

During the CWST, the service members jumped from a pier into the water while blindfolded, wearing a fighting load carrier and holding a rubber rifle. They navigated shore to shore, with a diver and rescue boat standing by for those unable to accomplish the task.

The water test can be very challenging, said Friedlein, who has been involved with the program since 2018 and was part of the first National Guard team to win the Best Ranger Competition in 2016.

“The service members are about 9 to 10 feet off the water,” Friedlein said. “They have to jump off the pier into the water and swim to shore, which is maybe a 20- to 25-meter swim. They have to make sure that they do not lose their rifle and to not show any fear or panic. There are a lot of people that the cold gets to them and they panic, and then they need to be saved by the rescue team. Some people drop their rifles or get too scared, so this is what we are looking for.”

Overcoming fear is part of what makes the Soldiers and Airmen better, Friedlein said.

“I do not care if you are scared of the water, but are you going to let the fear control you?” he said. “It’s the same with the obstacle course. It’s alright to be afraid of heights, but are you going to let that fear immobilize you, or are you going to control the fear and use it.”

Almquist said going through the RSAP program developed him as a Soldier and leader.

“When I came to RSAP in 2017, this was the first time experiencing this level of grit,” said Almquist. “It was very eye-opening, and there is a lot to being a Ranger, and I’m an MP; so to come here and perform a lot of infantry tasks was a whole other level. It was a great experience.”

Friedlein encourages everyone to get over the initial doubts and consider attending RSAP.

“I think a lot of people hold themselves back and do not come and do it, because they think they are not in good enough shape yet. And I urge everyone to get over that mentality and come out and try it, and if you are not ready, then you have an idea of how to train up. I think it is the fear of the challenge, but if you try and fail, you have nothing to feel guilty about.”

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