Friday, September 5, 2008

The Swamp Phase

Ranger School is one of the toughest training schools a soldier can volunteer for. Army Ranger NCO's are experts in leading soldiers on difficult missions-and to do this they need rigorous training. For over two months, Ranger students train to exhaustion, pushing the limits of their minds and bodies.

Emphasis during the Swamp (Florida) Phase is to continue the development of the Ranger student's combat arms functional skills. He must be capable of operating effectively under conditions of extreme mental and physical stress. This is accomplished through practical exercises in extended platoon level operations in a jungle/swamp environment. Training further develops the students' ability to plan for and lead small units on independent and coordinated airborne, air assault, small boat, and dismounted combat operations in a mid-intensity combat environment against a well-trained, sophisticated enemy.

The Florida Phase continues the progressive, realistic OPFOR (Opposing Forces) scenario. As the scenario develops, the students receive "in-country" technique training that assists them in accomplishing the tactical missions later in the phase. Technique training includes: small boat operations, expedient stream crossing techniques, and skills needed to survive and operate in a jungle/swamp environment involving learning how to deal with reptiles, and how to determine the difference between venomous snakes and non-venomous snakes. The camp has specially trained reptile experts that teach how to not be afraid of them.

The Ranger students are updated on the scenario that eventually commits the unit to combat during techniques training. The 9-day FTX (field-training exercise) is a fast-paced, highly stressful, challenging exercise in which the students are further trained, but are also evaluated on their ability to apply small unit tactics/techniques. They apply the tactics/techniques of raids, ambushes and movement to contact to accomplish their missions. The capstone of the course is the extensively-planned raid of the ALF's island stronghold. This small boat operation involves each platoon in the class, all working together on separate missions to take down the cartel's final point of strength.

Afterwards, students who earned graduation spend several days cleaning their weapons and equipment before returning to Ft. Benning. By then they have earned PX (Post Exchange) privileges, and access to the "Gator Lounge", a place where they can use a telephone, eat civilian food and drink beers and watch television. During that time students are fed three daily meals. The graduation is at Camp Rogers in Ft. Benning. In an elaborate ceremony at Victory Pond, the black-and-gold Ranger tab is pinned to the graduating soldier's left shoulder. The Ranger tab is permanently worn above the soldier's unit patch.

Historically, the graduation rate has been around 40%, but this has fluctuated in both directions at certain points. In the last three years the graduation rate has risen from 52% in 2005 to 54% in 2006 to 56% in 2007. Only around 20% of soldiers make it through all three phases without having to repeat a phase.

(The first two pictures are green because a night-vision lens was used to take the pictures.)

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