Monday, August 14, 2006

Home from charm school

Never underestimate the capabilities of the human body.

Given the proper motivation, I know for certain that an individual can operate continuously for at least 91 hours without sleep, move through waist-deep swamp with full combat load for at least 7.5 hours without a break, and consume 6 hotdogs (with buns), four bags of chips, three candy bars, and two sodas in less than 20 minutes (and be ready to do it again an hour later!).

These experiences and many more can be yours if you choose to spend 61 days of your summer at the U.S. Army's Ranger School. For those of you unfamiliar with the course, here's a fairly good summary, and here's the official site and brief.

I can't say that I recommend the course for everyone, nor can I say that I really enjoyed very much of it, however, it certainly gave me a real appreciation and respect for the guys who do this stuff everyday.

The course was certainly one of the most difficult things I have ever done, which is precisely what makes it worthwhile. Just about everyone I speak with about Ranger School asks me what I was thinking when I volunteered to go, and the answer I normally give is that I wanted to do something hard.

Most young children don't hesitate before attempting tasks that would be impossible for them to complete. However, most adults I have observed are very wary of trying anything they aren't certain they can handle, and some simply refuse to do anything they haven't actually successfully completed before. While those folks may be comfortable in their timidity, I find it far more interesting and rewarding to attempt tasks where the outcome is uncertain and success is far from guaranteed.

For me, the Ranger course certainly fell into the category of uncertain outcome and a rather small chance of success. I claim no expertise in infantry tactics or small unit leadership skills, and as an Army Aviator I have led a life of luxury relative to the rest of the force. When I found out about the opportunity of attending Ranger School I realized that I had not attempted something so difficult in several years, and I wanted to ward off the creeping complacency that a life of comfort invites.

One of the first truths you learn at Ranger School is that you do not earn your Ranger tab; your buddies earn it for you. In my case the foremost among my many buddies was my beautiful wife who first encouraged me to apply for the course, knowing that it would entail over 3 months of separation and that she would have to move to Korea (with our 2 dogs) by herself. Her prayers, letters, and constant support made it possible for me to keep going.

My mother and grandmother made significant additions to the thousands of hours they have spent in prayer for me since 1977, and without my dad's example I would have never thought to try something that others warned me against so earnestly.

The motivation to keep going came from home, but the buddies I met at the course are the ones who pulled me out of that waist-deep swamp, took a few hundred rounds of ammunition from my rucksack when I just couldn't carry anymore, kicked me in the ribs when I couldn't stay awake, and slipped me a couple of precious M&Ms when they knew I was hurting for calories.

Ranger School is an exercise in teamwork, so you should look with suspicion upon anyone who brags too much about his exploits there, unless of course he is recalling the stories over adult beverages with the guys who were there with him - in that case every syllable he speaks is truth, and it was probably even worse than he remembers!

I hope to write a bit more about the specifics of the course over the coming weeks and hopefully get back into some semi-regular posting as well. Thanks to any of you who are still checking in here - I appreciate your perseverance!