The evolution of ranger school: supporting the squad as the foundation of the decisive force. (2024)

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The Army has learned valuable lessons over the past 10 years ofwar, particularly with respect to small unit leadership. The conflictsin Iraq and Afghanistan have been fought primarily by platoons andsquads operating independently from higher headquarters, where thedecisions made by their leaders have had both operational andstrategic-level impacts. The Army has identified that this new, complexenvironment requires increasingly adaptive leaders. A primary concern ishow best to prepare leaders for this environment prior to their arrivalin theater and, further, how to maintain the capabilities of ourexperienced small unit leaders when the current conflict comes to aclose. The Army has refined its doctrine and its learning model based onlessons learned from the past 10 years as well as assumptions aboutfuture combat.

The Army has also identified a necessary focus area--the Squad:Foundation of the Decisive Force (SFDF) initiative. The Army's planto generate overmatch against its adversaries at the squad echelon ishighly techno-centric. Each of the plan's six dimensions, includingeducation/training, focuses on technology. While these initiatives willprove beneficial to the Infantry squad, as Napoleon said, "Themoral is to the material as three is to one," and the real sourceof combat power for the squad will be found in the human dimension.Former Maneuver Center of Excellence Commanding General MG Robert Brownidentified this in 2011 stating, "When we began we thought most ofthe improvements would be mostly materiel systems ... What we found,though, is that most of the change is needed in the humandimension--training and leader development."

Fortunately, the Army has a low-cost, pre-existing program directlygeared toward the human dimension and toward increasing the combat powerof squads and platoons--the U.S. Army Ranger School. As the Army'sunderstanding of the future of warfare, leadership, and training hasevolved, the Army's premier leadership course has evolved as well.Ranger School is positioned to be the decisive operation in the effortto gain squad overmatch. This article highlights the refinements thatthe Ranger Training Brigade (RTB) has made to accomplish this mission.


In existence for more than 60 years, the U.S. Army Ranger Schoolhas produced the world's best small unit combat leaders with thegoal of sending these leaders out into the Army to make the force, as awhole, more proficient. Commanders have been able to expect three thingsof a Ranger graduate:

* He is mentally and physically tough;

* He is tactically proficient; and

* He can lead Soldiers in the harshest and most strenuousconditions.

These expectations of Ranger graduates have not changed over theyears, but the conditions and standards for them have. As the Armyadopted Army Learning Model (ALM) 2015 and began to focus on SFDF, we inthe RTB conducted a self-assessment to determine how we could nest ourefforts with these refinements and create a betterproduct--specifically, a better Ranger graduate. We identified thatwhile the first two outcomes of the course remain consistent with therequirements of combat leaders on the ground, the standards for thethird outcome--excellence in leading Soldiers in combat--have changedwith the current nature of ground conflict. Our goal was to evolve thecourse so that we maintained the physical and mental stress on studentsand continued to develop their tactical acumen, but also produced aRanger graduate who was more flexible, more adaptable, and more at-homein the complex, dynamic, and uncertain environment of combat. As we tellstudents, the days of "Smart Rangers" or "StrongRangers" are over--the Army now needs its Ranger-qualified leadersto be both.


The refinements to the course required careful design. Simplyimitating common scenarios from the contemporary operating environmentwould not be enough and, in fact, could infringe upon the uniquebenefits of Ranger School. Here, we do not teach tactics, techniques,and procedures (TTPs), nor do we train Soldiers for specificenvironments; these are best left to unit and pre-deployment training.In the Ranger course, we teach combat leadership. Ranger School focuseson the fundamentals that are common to all environments, in all types ofcombat, in order to provide the student with the tools upon which hewill consistently rely. We also endeavor to present the students withunfamiliar conditions--something they have never experienced--in orderto train them to apply the fundamentals when faced with the unknown.Focusing too heavily on the contemporary operating environment wouldnegate these benefits and prepare students only to "fight the lastwar" rather than any war. Also, a key concern was to maintain thephysical/psychological rigor and ensure that students had a firm graspof tactics, which we primarily measure by applying the principles ofpatrolling.

With these constraints in mind, the RTB initiated a major coursemodification with two primary initiatives:

(1) Implementing sprint/marathon missions and

(2) Incorporating Adaptive Soldier and Leader Training andEducation (ASLTE) into both the instruction and grading procedures.

The changes to the course have occurred on differing timelines andwith differing emphasis within the RTB due to the varied missions of thethree Ranger Training Battalions (RTBns). The progression of thestudents through the 4th, 5th, and 6th RTBns follows the "crawl,walk, run" model. The 4th RTBn trains leaders on the fundamentalsof squad-level tactics at Fort Benning, Ga. In this phase, the Rangerinstructors (RIs) are much more directive and focus on students learningthe fundamentals to standard. The 5th RTBn in North Georgia trainsmountaineering skills and introduces students to platoon-leveloperations. This phase must move the student's mindset beyond themental processes used during the first phase at Fort Benning and,accordingly, students are evaluated primarily by the outcomes of theiractions. Instructors in this phase transition from a directive method ofinstruction to one of facilitating education. The 6th RTBn conductsplatoon-level operations in the swamps of Florida. This is the"run" phase in which RIs transition from facilitating to amore observational approach. At this point, students are expected to beproficient and demonstrate their ability to adjust to novel and changingconditions. Due to their differing roles, the approach of each battalionwith respect to these two initiatives varies; however, the battalionsare nested and the approaches work with the sequence of the courseprogram of instruction (POI) to facilitate the student'sdevelopment as he progresses through each phase.

Sprint/Marathon Concept

It is no secret that every Soldier arrives at Ranger School with ageneral idea of what it will entail. Stories have been told, books havebeen written, and field training exercises follow a similar format formuch of the course. We label this familiar format the"marathon" patrol. During a typical marathon patrol, studentsconduct the troop leading procedures (TLPs) in a secure patrol base,execute an extended movement to the objective, and then conduct actionson the objective (usually either an ambush or raid), followed by anothermovement and establishment of a patrol base to conduct priorities ofwork. Typically, there are chance contacts or other minor events enroute, but the patrol is characterized by very deliberate planning (inaccordance with the Ranger School standard) and physically strenuousmovement, with one main tactical objective. Marathon patrols allowinstructors to easily evaluate the performance of a student via astep-by-step process. This style of patrol reinforces the fundamentalsof small unit patrolling and provides students with the opportunity toconduct detailed planning and then execute that plan. The patrols alsoallow for repetition of the full TLPs and a thorough understanding ofthem, which is critical for small unit leaders. The physical rigors ofthis style of patrol also reinforce the students' resiliency.

The most, prevalent negative aspect of this type of training,however, is its predictability. Students can generally anticipate whenthey will make contact with the enemy because of the similar format(though sleep deprivation can hinder this process). On these patrols, nounexpected event is significant enough to force students to deviatesignificantly from the plans they developed. The long movements andstandard format have resulted in an endurance-focused event, with astudent mindset of "one foot in front of the other." Somesimply trudge forward in an effort to make it through the patrol ratherthan treating the mission as they would in combat.

To counter the negative aspects of this type of patrol, our cadredeveloped the "sprint" patrol concept. During these patrols,Ranger students experience more than six major events in a 24-hourperiod, most of which are unexpected. Whereas the focus of the marathonmission is training the deliberate TLP process, the focus of the sprintmission is to adjust and apply the process in a time-constrainedcondition. Sprint patrols are characterized by intelligence-drivenscenarios that alter the planned mission in order to test a Rangerstudent's ability to make decisions, utilize critical thinking, andadapt to a dynamic situation. Sprint missions do not have a typicalformat. Ranger students might begin the day planning for a deliberatemission and then step out of the patrol base only to receive afragmentary order (FRAGO) completely changing the entire patrol. Theywould then be expected to conduct an abbreviated mission analysis,followed by rapid execution of that plan. Another example would be apatrol encountering an enemy force during movement to its plannedobjective, and in the destruction of that force, acquire intelligencethat requires the patrol leader to alter his original plan. The intentis that students determine the necessary planning and execution in afive-minute or 30-minute time period, rather than a typical three-hourperiod. Sprint missions require adjusting the total distance covered ona patrol but with no loss of difficulty as the mental stress on studentsis increased. The end state is that students must exercise adaptabilityand initiative in order to react to unpredictable situations.

Because each type of patrol has benefits, the RTB maintains both ina set ratio, though not a set battle rhythm (this is determined by thevarious RTBns and their RI companies). After conducting several pilotclasses in early 2012, the RTB commander approved the concept. Theimplementation has done much to eliminate the "checklistmentality" that many students bring to the course. Previously,their focus was on accomplishing each step of the process in an exactfashion and order. Students' performance and capability suffered asthey worried more about "checking the blocks" during theirpatrols and became overly concerned with the process rather than theoutcome of their actions. The sprint missions have forced students tomodify that checklist in accordance with their analysis of the mission,enemy forces, time, terrain-troops available, and civil considerations(METT-TC), thus appropriately applying the fundamentals they have beentaught, rather than attempting to rigidly apply a predetermined formatto varying situations.

Incorporation of Adaptive Soldier and Leader Training into the P0I

The sprint/marathon concept was the catalyst for the secondinitiative--incorporating ASLTE into the Ranger School POI. The Rangercourse is first and foremost a leadership course. We have typically usedpatrolling as the vehicle to evaluate leadership. As we began toimplement the sprint/ marathon concept, we asked ourselves if ourgrating format for the field training exercises--the observation report(OR)--was the best tool to evaluate these types of missions and, moreimportantly, to inculcate the qualities we require of a Ranger graduate.It became clear that our grading format applied more to patrolling thanleadership. As we continued to update our instruction in alignment withALM 2015, we discovered that it provided tools for evaluating leadershipin a more direct manner.

During the development of the sprint concept, we focused on the21st century leader competencies outlined in ALM 2015. Some of thesewere applicable to our course, others were not. We identified those webelieved we could train and then refined them. We developed measures ofperformance for these competencies and then began working on a processfor evaluating them. Our most significant unanswered questions from theimplementation of the sprint concept were: "How do we betterevaluate the intangible competencies?" and "How do we trainour instructors to do so?" Again, our intent was to gradeleadership more directly and focus on the outcomes of the students'actions. Through working groups of RIs, a revised OR format was createdand then modified and refined over a period of six months and multipletest classes. The end result is currently being implemented. Theprevious OR format was solely a task/condition/standard (T/C/S) approachthat focused on inputs rather than outcomes, consisted of a series ofchecklists for each tactical task, and relied on a mathematical formulafor determining percentages and passing rates. The new format isnarrative-based, better facilitates counseling, provides a more holisticassessment of the student, focuses more directly on leadership, andallows the RI much greater flexibility. It is designed to progress fromgeneral assessment down to more detailed levels as necessary. The leadercompetencies we identified are the basis for the leadership evaluation,and the principles of patrolling are the basis for the tacticalevaluation. The primary focus is the patrol summary and the assessmentof the students' strengths and weaknesses, but we also retained anArmy Training and Evaluation Program (ARTEP)-type reference to which theinstructor can tie his tactical assessment. The revised evaluation is ahybrid of the T/C/S and the outcomes-based training approach.

The most significant foothold for implementation was to familiarizeand train the RIs, an ongoing effort as we incorporate ASLTE into ourcombat techniques training and improve the presentation of instructionto the students. ASLTE and the new evaluation form have now beenincorporated into the certification process, and all Rls have receivedtraining, counseling, and mentoring, ultimately enhancing their ownteaching and mentoring abilities. One of the often overlooked benefitsof the Ranger course, and a focus equal to the instruction of students,is the caliber of NCOs who leave this duty station and return todeployable units. They are experts in small unit operations, masterinstructors, and skilled facilitators who are combat multipliers forunits receiving them.

Ranger Training is the Right Answer For Our Combat Formations

Ranger School is far from a legacy course with an antiquated viewand outdated method for inculcating leadership. No other unit providesthe broad scope and unique challenges that the Ranger Training Brigadeoffers. All of our instructors are combat veterans, most with multipledeployments. They come from every unit and have served in every theater.This diverse group has seen every technique under every condition thatcan be encountered and can thus provide a unique perspective. Cadre thisexperienced and so dedicated to the goal of preparing young leaders forcombat will turn adequate leaders into great ones. Regardless of rank,every student takes something away from Ranger training--tangible orintangible--and learns a great deal about himself in the process. Thecourse has maintained its rigorous and exacting standards whilesimultaneously evolving to meet 21st century combat leadershiprequirements. The U.S. Army Ranger School remains the premier leadershipcourse in the military and the best preparation for combat a leader canhave, regardless of deployment history. The coveted Ranger Tab worn bygraduates distinguishes experts in the field of adaptive ground combatleadership.

The U.S. Army, however, is dangerously short of Ranger-qualifiedpersonnel. As of December 2012, Army brigade combat teams have 19percent of their Ranger-coded positions, in the ranks of private throughsergeant first class, filled with Ranger-qualified leaders. RTB is alsoconsistently operating below its maximum capacity. This unfortunatetrend means that units are less proficient--and therefore lesseffective--than they could be. While the future is uncertain, we do knowthat regionally aligned forces will be focused on a particular area ofthe globe for smaller unit operations. Further, only a percentage ofunits may be deployed in support of security force assistance teammissions, leaving larger numbers of Soldiers and leaders at their poststo continue training. Ranger School provides the perfect opportunity fora commander to send promising leaders for special training and toenhance the combat capability of his unit during these ongoingoperations.

The key to gaining the overmatch envisioned in SFDF is to be foundin the human dimension. As COL John Boyd said, "Terraindoesn't fight wars. Machines don't fight wars. People fightwars. It's in the minds of men that war must be fought."'This is as true at the squad level as it is at the strategic level. TheArmy needs junior leaders who can execute mission command, who aretough, tactically proficient, and adaptable, and who are skilled inleading Soldiers. This is exactly what the Ranger course creates.Ranger-qualified team leaders and squad leaders are the ultimate combatmultipliers at the squad level.


(1.) Shelly L. Szafraniec, "Blended Training Model Relevant toSquad: Foundation of the Decisive Force,"

(2.) As quoted by Henry Eason, "New Theory Shoots Down Old WarIdeas," Atlanta Constitution, 22 March 1981.


MAJ Peter C. Vangjel is the operations officer for the 5th RangerTraining Battalion, Camp Merrill, Dahlonega, Ga.

CPT Michael Filanowski is the commander of Alpha Company, 5thRanger Training Battalion.

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Copyright 2013 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

The evolution of ranger school: supporting the squad as the foundation of the decisive force. (2024)
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