By Giselle BodinMay 14, 2008
HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - Every father is proud of his son. Many parents share experiences with their children that create a life-long bond for that family. But for one SMDC/ARSTRAT employee, the three-generation bond he shares with his father and his son reflects a truly unique experience.
On Friday, May 2, 2nd Lt. Christopher Hamilton graduated from the Army's Ranger School at Fort Benning, Ga. Hamilton is the son of SMDC/ARSTRAT's current chief of staff, Col. John C. Hamilton, who is a 1980 graduate of Ranger School.
While this is a unique experience for the family of course, the history of this particular accomplishment goes back further. Col. Hamilton's father, Sgt. Maj. (Ret.) John Hamilton, completed the same course in 1953. Ranger School is not just an achievement that each of these gentlemen is proud of, but it is also a legacy that they have created as a family bond.
"I would be honored to believe that I am starting down a path that would allow me to be half the man or Soldier that my father and grandfather are," the youngest Hamilton said.
It seems he is well on his way - he graduated without recycling, a rarity in Ranger School. Most Soldiers who start the program leave at some point and complete the course at a later date, when they are more fully prepared for the rigorous trials of the course. This is known as "recycling."
The spring 2008 Ranger class began with approximately 430 Soldiers; 246 graduated, most of whom were already recycled. The first time pass rate for this class was a mere 32 percent. 2nd Lt. Hamilton was one of the rare few who finished the course on his first try.
U.S. Army Ranger School is a three-phase intense course that is meant to test Soldiers emotionally, physically and mentally; to break them down, put them in stressful environments, and allow their leadership potential to expand. The first phase, held at Fort Benning, contains two parts. The first is an initial assessment of fitness, combat survival, navigation, obstacle courses, demolitions training and airborne instruction. The second part focuses on patrolling, combat, mission planning and troop leading. Overall, this phase assures mental and physical endurance and instills confidence and commitment in its participants.
The second phase is the Mountain Phase, in which Soldiers learn about military mountaineering, techniques for employing a squad and platoon for combat patrol operations in a mountainous environment, knots, ropes, climbing, and rappelling.
The third phase is the Florida Phase. Here Soldiers are put in adverse conditions with extreme stress, testing their combat and leadership skills and allowing them to plan and lead small units in a jungle/swamp environment.
While Col. Hamilton explained that his time during Ranger School was grueling and challenging, he also conceded that the course today is different - perhaps more rigorous but also smarter, particularly in the perspective of safety. Either way, he was extremely proud of his son and excited about the unique legacy that they were creating.
"As a result of his completion of this course, I see more potential for Chris than I have ever seen before," Col. Hamilton said. "He has definitely made me proud, and I was happy to be a part of his pinning ceremony like my father was a part of mine."
Col. Hamilton traveled to Fort Benning, Ga., for the ceremony along with his wife and daughter. He pinned his son as a symbol of his graduation, just like his own father had done for him 18 years before.
In discussing his own Ranger School experiences, Col. Hamilton said that while he knew his father had completed the course, it was initially more a sense of duty for him than following in his father's footsteps.
"I wanted to do the hardest thing I could and this [Ranger School] was the premier military school," Col. Hamilton said. "It's only more special now because of the legacy we have created and the three generations that can now speak about our experiences."
2nd Lt. Hamilton had similar feelings going into his course as well, believing initially that Ranger School was just one more pre-requisite to leading a platoon.
"I remember hearing stories about this course and feeling proud to know that my father and grandfather were able to perform and maintain standards despite the rigorous conditions imposed by the course requirements, Ranger instructors and Mother Nature," 2nd Lt. Hamilton explained. "The course taught me that no matter the external factors ... the mission must be successfully completed and standards will not be compromised."
Col. Hamilton's father, Sgt. Maj. (Ret.) Hamilton, was ecstatic to learn that his grandson was going to Ranger School. Being an infantry Soldier himself, he already had a close bond with his grandson, who is also infantry. Sgt. Maj. (Ret.) Hamilton was also the first non-commissioned officer that 2nd Lt. Hamilton saluted. One of the first things the family did upon 2nd Lt. Hamilton's graduation was to send photos of the event to his grandfather.
"I know he is proud of Chris as well and is excited about all of us being able to share our stories," Col. Hamilton stated.
Those stories will undoubtedly grow as 2nd Lt. Hamilton continues along in his Army experiences and continues to follow the values of his family members before him. "The values my family passed down to me have shown the importance of service and understanding that through courses such as Ranger School, the military develops character and leadership ability. Not just the legacy of attending and graduating Ranger School without recycling, but the values associated with military service, is the legacy that my father and grandfather have shown me and those are the values I intend to pass on."
2nd Lt. Hamilton's next assignment is with the 82nd Airborne at Ft. Bragg, N.C.. He is currently finishing jump school, another experience he shares with both his mother and father.