Here are emails I received about my ranger and airborne articles. I have interspersed my comments in [red brackets].

Mr. Reed,

    A friend recommended your website to me, and I have been steadily making my way through many of your military articles.  Much like you, I am an Airborne Ranger West Point graduate - Class of 20[recent].  I'd first like to state that I wholeheartedly agree with almost everything you write, and I think the 5% or so that I disagree with tends to be minor points and matters of opinion.  I was enlisted for three years before I went to USMA (skipping the prep school thanks to decent SAT scores), and I truly had no idea what I was getting myself into.  Within the first week of Beast Barracks I had figured out that West Point is not what it purports to be, and the regular Army is even less so. [Reed note: I actually did not conclude that West Point was not what it purported to be. The way I would put it is that I was astonished at how much harder it was than the books, articles, moveies and TV shows depicted. I totally agree that the Army is not what it purportes to be.]

    However, I only had that perspective thanks to my enlisted time in [X] Ranger Battalion at Ft. Benning.  [I did not have any prior military experience and I assume the poop schoolers and other prior service guys had a very different perspective than mine on West Point initially.] I always try not to look back on my past experiences with rose-tinted glasses, and I am fully aware of the 75th Ranger Regiment's shortcomings.  Regardless, in most ways the Regiment, like the rest of the Special Operations community, is a place that is free of the Mickey Mouse bullshit found in the regular Army. There is a healthy dose of common sense applied to almost every situation, and the priority is always training for and fighting the nation's wars.  [That was what I heard about the green berets when I was in and it was why I volunteeerd for Special Forces five times. I actually was on orders for Fifth Special Group in Vietnam, butthe orders were rescinded.]

Unlike most events in the rest of the Army, training I saw at [X] was always demanding and realistic, much the same way you advocate for sports.  Ranger First Responder medical training evaluations are conducted in the dark, wearing full kit, with realistic simulated wounds and speakers blaring the scenes of the D-Day invasion in Saving Private Ryan or one of the firefights in Blackhawk Down.  Similar care is put into every training exercise, whether it is an attack on a simulated village, breaching a trench complex, or an airborne operation to seize an airstrip.  The foremost priority in everyone's minds is to continually improve the unit's capabilities, and during my time there I never saw a huge training distraction such as the Live Fire Exercise you spent all summer preparing for at Ft. Bragg. [I am very glad to hear this. It is a definite improvement over my experience.]

    Please note that at no point in the above paragraph did I mention Ranger School.  While all leaders in the Regiment must be Ranger-qualified, the School is widely considered to be a rite of passage, and not a place one goes to learn skills used in combat.  If those attending from other units believe they are learning combat skills, so be it, but Rangers in the 75th know it is the training they receive at their unit that differentiates them from "leg" infantry.  As a recent graduate of Ranger School I can certainly attest to that.  I can honestly say that I didn't learn a single thing in Ranger School that I hadn't already learned better somewhere else, either in the Regiment, at West Point, or on my own time.  Though there are a handful of places in Iraq and Afghanistan where one might successfully use Ranger-like patrols and ambushes, I completely concur with your argument that those places are few and far between, and the current Army is not engaging in "best practices" by using those tactics.  In fact, Ranger School would be far more valuable for members of the Taliban operating behind our lines than it is for our own soldiers. [When I was in the Army, Ranger School was essentially the only ranger unit. I did volunteer for a Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol unit in Vietnam when I heard there was a slot there for a radio officer about the time I was due to get there. The Pentagon gave me the slot, but warned the local officers in Vietnam might screw that up, which they did. Because I arrived a day later than a West Point classmate with the same resume, he, who did not volunteer for it, got the job, and I did not. LRRPs were technically a ranger unit, but it was sort of thrown together ad hoc and I believe most members had come in as local warm body volunteers who had not gone to Ranger School. Today’s rangers are a very established organization. During Vietnam, I believe there were no Ranger units in the Army except for a couple of small LRRP units attached to corps commanders in Vietnam.]

    I only bring this up because in your article on 'Elite' military units you give the impression that Ranger School skills are what Ranger units specialize in.  While that may have been true in Vietnam, it simply is not the case now.  You say that Ranger units should be called by the British (Boer-derived) term 'Commandos' to let the public understand what they actually do.  I think a better understanding of current Ranger units is that they are actually Storm Troopers.  [That name will not work. The worst members of the Nazi organization were the Storm Troopers.] While elements of the Regiment maintain the skills needed to operate for extended periods behind enemy lines, the primary focus now is on mastering urban combat, and the 75th is extraordinarily capable in this regard.  [As a side note, the 75th Ranger Regiment's motto is "Sua Sponte" or "Of Their Own Accord," thus its use by CPT Anonymous Coward in his email.] [I know what “sua sponte” means. I have represented myself in court a half dozen or so times. In court it means the judge initiating his own motion rather than the usual practice of waiting for one of the parties to make a motion.]

    What I have not addressed is whether the 75th Ranger Regiment is an 'Elite' military unit by your definition - whether they would be able to win against a group of "similarly trained" civilians.  If one could assemble a group of civilians, train them for a period of a couple of years on physical fitness, marksmanship, small unit tactics, first responder trauma medicine, convoy operations, parachuting, and other skills, then set up an honest competition against units from the Regiment, I still doubt the civilians could win.  [I am not persuaded. For one thing, the writer of this email has been in the Army his whole life. Military people erroneously think they are better than civilians because they do reveille runs and such. Generally, the civilian counterparts have more experience than the military. Civilian EMTs are at accidents and heart attacks daily. Military train about it and do it for real during combat tours, but toal hours favor the civilians. They generally stay in the jobs longer over their lives I would expect. Military people are not different from civilians. Although they seem totally convinced they are different and better. It’s not true. The differences only stem from the total number of hours of training and experience. If a group of civilians have more years of experience, they will outperform the military, and vice versa.]

You say that in your experience, members of elite units are of lower intelligence and maturity than other soldiers, who are already of lower intelligence and maturity than civilians.  I do not have access to data that would empirically demonstrate whether your experience holds true, so I am forced to rely on Ranger standards and anecdotal evidence.  To address the question of intelligence, Rangers are required to have a General Technical score of 110 out of 130.  While waivers are available, the vast majority of Rangers score at or above this level.  I recall being tasked as a young private to assemble data sheets on the other members of my squad, and their GT scores jumped out at me as being exceptional.  I ran the numbers and my squad had a mean score of 122. In other words, my squad scored on average higher than 93.8% of all people to ever take the ASVAB, not just those who ended up eventually joining the military.  Again, this is anecdotal rather than an empirical truth I can demonstrate across the board for the 75th, but I believe statistical evidence would conclusively prove that Rangers are of above-average intelligence. [The only rangers I knew were mostly my West Point classmates plus a few others. I would classify the others as highly motivated and probably better soldiers than normal. My ranger class was not stupid. I was never in any of the extremely few—maybe three—extremely small ranger units in the Army then. My comments about elite IQs were about the Airborne. I was in the 101st and the 82nd for a total of five months. Also, I have to ask rangers in the ranger units, if you’re so smart, why do you live in Fayetteville, NC? There are other places, like San Francisco, Paris, London, Aspen, Newport Beach, Princeton, Waikiki Beach. You only live once. Spending the best years of your life in Fayatteville is either “don’t know what you’re missing” ignorance or clinical level masochism]

    Are Ranger less mature than their civilian counterparts?  [Again, I was talking about airborne. When I was in the Army, there were almost no ranger units and I was never in any of them. My ranger school classmates were West Pointers and a few other guys whom I was unable to get to know well enough to judge their maturity.]

Well, one of the arguments against the 'Elite' nature of the 75th is that the average age is somewhere around 20 or 21.  Rangers are one of the only Special Operations units to accept privates right after they complete Basic Training and Airborne School.  Is any 20 year old (let alone an 18 year old) truly mature, let alone elite?  That may be a question for philosophers rather than something a statistician could study.  I will admit that there is a bit of a locker room - or fraternity - mentality in the Regiment.  However, that mentality is also loosely tied to the Regiment's Esprit de Corps, which is extremely high - and as you point out, such elan is one of the reasons why Special Operations units are often more successful than their conventional counterparts.  To loosely quote Clausewitz, "In war, everything is simple, yet the simplest thing is difficult."  Sometimes believing you and your unit are capable of accomplishing something may allow you to do it, especially against units of lower caliber, such as most Third World insurgents.  I am not arguing that immaturity is a strength, simply that it is perhaps influenced or tied to the Esprit that clearly is a strength.  Of course, one must also consider whether Rangers are necessarily less mature than their civilian counterparts. Again, from my personal anecdotal evidence, I firmly believe that young Rangers are more mature than civilians of the same age, whether in the work force or in college.  [Most likely, rangers are more mature in some ways and less mature in others. That is what I said about us West Point graduates. See my “Should you go to West Point?” article. The maturity stems from what you are allowed to do and what you are not allowed to do. Rangers generally live away from civiliazation which has adverse effects. We could not drink acohol at or near West Point and it was hard to get fmealse to come up to West Point. As a result, we were immature about alcohol and women when we graduated. We were more mature about carrying out responsibilities because we had to do so daily as cadets.]

However, the immaturity of those young Rangers is tempered by their NCOs and officers.  Career Rangers can reenlist to remain at their Battalion for as long as they'd like until they reach a certain rank, usually E-7 or E-8, that may force them to find work somewhere else.  Even then, the Regiment will generally do everything it can to keep these highly experienced soldiers within their ranks, such as allowing a Sergeant First Class from [X] to PCS and take a platoon in [Y], or something similar.  These NCOs have spent decades in the Regiment, and have operated with every Special Operations unit in the U.S. military, and often those of allied nations as well.  I would argue that the maturity level of the Regiment is, on average, at least equal to that of any similar group of civilians one might assemble.  Could we improve it?  Absolutely, but at a prohibitive cost.  [I do not understand this. Rangers are probably immature is some ways because of their isolation from normal adult life. Reducing the isolation does not strike me as a great expense. I think the problem is the Army brass are afraid of “How you gonna keep them down on Fort Bragg after they’ve seen Paree?” syndrome. They deliberately isolate them for improper reasons and immaturity in part is a byproduct of that policy.]

You yourself have argued that military personnel have no conception of the true cost of what they ask for, such as in the case of the war in Iraq - I would argue that what the 75th manages to accomplish, with a handful of career NCOs leading the very sort of young soldiers they would have if we implemented a draft is an extraordinary case of the Army maximizing its "profit."  I'll gladly accept that level of maturity any day.

    This letter is rapidly growing to a longer length than I intended, so I'll address my final two points quickly.  In physical fitness, the average Ranger falls short of an NCAA athlete only because of a lack of time to train.  [Whoa! There is not a snowball’s chance in LaJolla that’s true. NCAA athletes are only allowed to train 20 hours per week. Furthermore, NCAA athletes, like football players, have tons of stuff to master other than physical fitness. The only way you are going to convince me that rangers are equal to NCAA athletes is to show me the college recruiting letters they got when they were high school athletes. I do not believe there is any chance that very many rangers are high school athletes who turned down college athletic scholarships.]

They almost all demonstrate similar athletic potential, [I am not buying this at all. NCAA Division I athletes are very close to superhuman, that is, they are a world apart from their age group peers. My son was a tailback in the Ivy League, which because of its high academic standards is rather weak Division I. I coached guys who played college football and other college sports. I was on the field when guys like Ken Dorsey and Drew Bennet were throwing passes to my son. I knew many of his teammates. I commennted that politics has been described as Hollywood for ugly people and that it would be fair to say that “elite” military units are the NFL for relatively unathletic, relatively untalented people. I stand by that statement.] and the pain they endure during the Regiment's selection process is at least equal to that any NCAA athlete feels during the season. [Depends on the sport. I disagree if the sport is football or a college-level endurance sport like cross country or swimming.] Unfortunately, physical fitness is just one of many skills that Rangers must spend their time on, so they may not all be able to meet similar benchmarks, but they absolutely could if that were their focus as semi-pro or professional athletes.  

    So, with all that being said, could you assemble a group of civilians that would be more capable than their Ranger counterparts? Certainly - if you selected Ubermensch.  If, instead, you selected 100 civilians at random and put them through carefully designed training for a period of a couple years, you might end up with about a squad of worthy candidates.  [I never said to select them at random. The Columbia football team was not selected at random.] That is exactly what the Regiment does, except those 100 men already go through the basics of being judged capable of meeting the Army's basic requirements (as you have argued, perhaps not as high a bar as one would like, but it does disqualify many of those who seek to join), and the number they eventually end up with is less than 10.

    A final bit of anecdotal evidence - I was a member of the 75th for almost three years before attending West Point.  In that time I learned a great deal about both marksmanship and urban tactics.  During my years at USMA I was part of a unique team, which specifically trains its members to become experts on those same two tasks, specifically close quarters marksmanship and SWAT-like tactics.  That team, both because of its inherent capabilities and selective leverage of the West Point reputation, has been able to form loose associations with a handful of SWAT teams in the northeast.  I can honestly state that, based on my own unique experience operating with both the 75th and civilian SWAT teams, which I believe fully meet your criteria of being a group of "similarly trained" civilians, the 75th would win at least seven out of ten times in an urban conflict.  The full story, of course, is that members of the 75th also maintain other core competencies, such as being able to conduct airborne operations to seize airfields - something no SWAT team has to contend with.  While I fully agree with almost everything you write, including your opinion of Ranger School, I believe that an honest assessment of the 75th Ranger Regiment would see it as an 'Elite' unit by your own definition. [I was not aware of any of this. Sounds great.]

    Does the 75th have shortcomings, and moments of weakness? Absolutely - the fratricide of Pat Tillman is probably the most well known, especially in the last few years.  But, while I hate to make a callous statement, it is an unfortunate truth that these things happen in the fog of war.  [It was broad daylight about 30 to 50 feet away from Tillman. The “fog” seems to have existed solely between the ears of the idiot who killed Tillman. What, pray tell, was that son of a bitch’s name anyway.] It absolutely could have and should have been avoided with better tactics, techniques, and procedures, and the cover-up afterwards is absolutely abhorrent.  It makes me furious that the Army tried to cover up what happened rather than acknowledging it as a tragic mistake.  I never knew Pat - he was in 2nd Battalion at Ft. Lewis while I was in 3rd Battalion at Ft. Benning - but I knew several people who were in his company and even in his squad.  They all had nothing but good things to say about him, and also feel as I do about the cover up after his death.  However, even Superbowl champions and the most successful corporations make mistakes - fortunately, people don't die when those mistakes happen.  The Regiment isn't perfect, but it is without a doubt an elite organization that honestly seeks to "be all it can be." [Name a Super Bowl play that bears any resemblance to the Tillman killing. I can’t. Leon Lett’s hot dogging just before the end zone was the worst I can think of and it bears no resemblance to Tillman.]

    I'd also like to thank you for putting some hard truths out there in a public forum - so few officers in the Army, especially senior officers, are willing to acknowledge our many organizational shortcomings.  I was already hesitant to remain in the Army longer than necessary to become a Special Forces ODA Commander, and your writings have helped me see things much more clearly. I will bring your writings to the attentions of similar-minded men.  

Name withheld by request


I graduated from Ranger class 04-67. I am a Citadel grad, 1966, but I went through Ranger with an almost total West Point class. redacted, West Point 1966, and I became good friends. His death saddened me greatly but I have managed to keep in touch with his brother…. Before Ranger school I did airborne training…At that time evryone wanted to be Ranger but not me; however, I got orders to attend. My TAC officer and NCO were "the Gemini from Hell".
What they did to us in nine weeks was inhuman. "The Long Gray Line" about the Class of 1966 from West Point had a chapter entitled "Ranger". It did not come close to what really happened.
In 1969 I returned from the Nam only to learn that my friend …had been killed on his second tour. I immediately packed and drove to his funeral at Fort Benning. I had been assigned to Fort Benning and was told to report to 3rd floor, Infantry Hall. Upon going in I had to see a Major. The major had been my Ranger TAC and he told me he was going to do me a favor. I said no way would I want a favor from him but he still sent me packing to the Florida Ranger Camp. I spent almost two years there.. We moved from Field Seven to Field Six after the "white collar prison" occupied better facilities on Eglin Main.
Your writing summarized fairly well the activities and the methods of instruction. I referred to it as "situational learning". While there I met a West Pointer, 1965, redacted from Hawaii. He had served two tours, one with the 25th and one with the 1st Cav as commander of the Ranger Co. He was an excellent officer…. While I was there we had two Rangers killed by lightning, one during a parachute jump, and had an instructor electrocuted by a low hanging wire. There were numerous close calls. I even had a Ranger stumble into a yellow jacket nest. Luckily his buddy knew he carried the injection kit and I was able to stop the reaction.
I am glad to have found your site and your comments on Ranger training. You should have taken the job. They need good officers and role models in that type of training but unfortunately it is a down and dirty job.

Would not let me use his name

10/7/08 from a 1988 West Point graduate

1. I was hurt in Ranger school and did not graduate. Return cancelled due to Desert Shield. So my thoughts would lose some credibility with the Ranger crowd I'm sure since I'm sans tab. I was there in the winter and we had ponchos and poncho-liners but no sleeping bags.
2. A statistically extraordinary number of people were hurt in my class and around the time that I was there both in the main course and in the recycle group. If I recall, there was actually an IG investigation since a lot of unit commanders were not happy about sending their soldiers there and having them returned on crutches. The ranger school commander may have even been relieved, but I don't remember all of the details.
3. Generally, I thought the quality of instruction was poor. Ranger School is ostensibly about teaching small unit tactics, patrolling, ambushes, raids, etc. but, as you point out, starvation and sleep deprivation are not effective techniques if your goal is to actually teach skills. I did not see that Ranger-tabbed infantry in regular units were better at infantry skills than others, only more confident that they were better when sometimes, in fact, they were not. If the goal is "toughness" for toughness' sake, then why go through the rigmarole of pretending to teach skills. [Reed note: I coached 15 football teams and wrote 7 books on football coaching. Obviously, toughness is important in football. But we achieved it as a by-product of competitive drills and scrimmages, not by deprivation or extreme exertion. We did not have time for that, plus we did not want to drive good players away. We spent almost all of our practice time on teaching assignments, techniques, muscle memory reps, and timing.]

It's my understanding that the Special Forces school does not work this way. They have the selection course which is toughness for the sake of toughness and then followed by the actual Q course which is designed to teach skills and which might be challenging due to what is being taught but is not physically tough just for the hell of it (although I doubt that it is mentally challenging either. I never saw an Army course that was intellectually difficult.)
4. As for mountaineering, I took my cub scout den rock climbing at a local rock gym several times when they were 8-10. Just not that difficult even with minimal instruction. [Reed note: I went up my first artificial rock-climbing wall the week of my 60th birthday, then rappelled down. The fact that a 60-year old can do that skillfully is probably greater evidence of the lack of machismo needed to climb mountains than the fact that 8-year-old cub scouts can do it.]
5. Space blankets are key. I have one still for boy scout camping. I don't think we were allowed them at ranger school (why use modern technology when you can use Vietnam era equipment in the late 80's?). [Reed note: I went to Ranger school during Vietnam. Space blankets were allowed but probably outlawed later because they made so much sense and worked so well. If we wanted to live our lives on a common sense basis, we would not have joined the Army.]

I did have one in my ruck as a lieutenant and it was very useful for keeping me warm during a field exercise in the swamps near Camp Lejeune.

[Like the email below, the writer did not want to give his name out of fear of unpleasant communications from the insecure people for whom Ranger school is the greatest thing they ever did in their lives.]


I'm a graduate of Ranger Class 8-71 (Frostbite 8), the dates for which were from the first week in January, 1971 to the first week in March,
1971 (don't remember the exact dates). I came across the military articles that you have on your website and wanted to provide you with
some additional information. I'd prefer that my name not be used in attribution, since I don't want to become ensnared in a web of electronic communication regarding jump school or ranger training.

A student in my ranger class died from hypothermia. I believe that he was an engineer lieutenant and his last name was Strang (not certain on the last name). His death would have occurred sometime in the last couple of weeks of February or the first week of March. Our patrol route on that particular night was supposed to take us to one side of the junction of the Weaver River (not the Yellow River in this case) and Weaver Creek (so that we would only need to cross one of them). As to be expected, our navigation was off and we had to cross both of them. I wasn't in a leadership position on that particular patrol, so my information on the events of that night comes from information that I heard from fellow classmates (probably a decent mix of rumor, supposition, and fact). I pretty much spent most of the night standing in the middle of the swamp, trying to keep most of my body out of the water by standing on the roots of a cypress tree. I don't know what the temperature was that night, but it got pretty cold at night during the course of those 12 days (several nights later, the legs on my uniform trousers started to get frosty after we crossed a knee-deep stream).

My recollection of the details is a bit off after 36(+) years, but I remember that we spent quit a bit of time preparing to cross the first "water obstacle" (don't remember if it was the creek or river). We eventually crossed it, moved a couple of hundred meters and stayed for another long period of time in one position, before crossing the second one. Somewhere during that first or second period of inactivity, one of the students complained of pains in his groin area. Thinking that it might be appendicitis, the instructors called for a boat to evacuate him to a medical facility (turned out that it wasn't appendicitis - many of us experienced the same symptoms - I was told that it was from reduced salt intake in our diet - don't know if that's medically correct or not). Also during that same time (I was told that it was after the first medical evacuation), the student that succumbed to hypothermia collapsed. After some prodding by the instructor(s), it was determined that his heart had stopped. He was resuscitated and also evacuated by boat.

All of this essentially took the entire night to transpire. We eventually moved off and reached dry land somewhere around 7 or 7:30 that morning. We never made it to our objective. We didn't hear anything further that day, but were told the following morning, 24 hours later, that our classmate had died sometime during the previous day.

After returning to the base camp at the conclusion of the 12-day patrol, the camp commander had a meeting with all of us, in which the names of the students who were going to be given an option to recycle through some or all of the course were announced (thankfully, my name wasn't among those unfortunate souls). He also mentioned the death of our classmate. I seem to remember him being pretty callous about the incident, saying something to the effect that this happens both in training and combat and we need to move on. [Ranger cadre and some rangers appear to be using the deaths of ranger students and their callousness to them to further prove their own manhood. This is an outrage and a manifestation of the childlike insecurity about their manhood of these “men.”]

There was also a death in the class that preceded mine. It was class #501 (or something like that) and had many Class of '70 United States Military Academy (West Point) graduates in it. I had heard that the individual was one of the recent WP graduates and had hit his head on the runway at Auxiliary Field #6 during the parachute jump following the flight from Ft. Benning to Eglin AFB. That would have occurred sometime around the beginning of February, 1971.

Just a couple of comments as to what it was like to be a "winter Ranger." The only additional cold weather equipment that we were issued were the Mickey Mouse boots that you had mentioned (we only woolen glove liners. We only wore them when we were in a static position - you couldn't walk long distance in them) and trigger-finger mittens, that were worn over our woolen glove liners. We only had standard field jackets and liners, along with any long underwear that we could stuff in our rucksacks. Of course, Ranger Joe's space blanket was an essential item that we always carried. For sleeping (what little we got when out on patrol), we carried a sleeping bag cover (the cotton case for the bag, not the sleeping bag, itself), a poncho liner, and poncho. [Reed note: We absolutely were not allowed ponchos when I went through Ranger School in 1968.]

I remember one night on patrol in the mountains, when a drizzling rain began to fall. The rain turned to freezing rain and sleet. Everything, the ground, rocks, our canteens, ammo pouches, rucksacks, and weapons became coated in ice - ice so thick that we were unable to open canteens and weapons didn't function. Trying to walk up the mountains and repeatedly slipping on the ice-covered rocks that stuck up through the soil was a painful, frustrating experience. I slipped and fell on my knees so many times that I'm surprised that I didn't crack a kneecap.

We weren't allowed to have fires when we were in a static position. [I stand corrected.] The only concession to this rule was made on two separate nights. We were taken to warming tents that had stoves/heaters in them to wait out snowstorms overnight that dumped 12-18" of snow on each occasion. Our green fatigue uniforms provided great camouflage in the freshly fallen snow.

Also, Gary Littrell was back as an instructor at the Florida Ranger Camp during my time there. [Reed note: He was at the mountain camp when I went through Ranger School.] I think that we only had him for one class, on the types of wild creatures that we might encounter in the surrounding swamps. He might have been one of the graders sometime during the 12-day patrol, but I didn't have any contact with him. Of course the buzz circulated about the Medal of Honor, but he impressed me as a rather unassuming type, unlike many of the hard-charging, buzz-headed instructors that seemed to populate the cadre.

[Airborne School]
As for jump school, I would have to agree with you that it wasn't a very demanding physical challenge. I went to jump school following ranger school because ranger school was a scheduling priority in terms of my initial military schools following my commissioning (at the time that I was commissioned, ranger school was mandatory for all new combat and combat support arms officers). I graduated from ranger school on a Thursday and had to report for the jump school PT test on Monday morning. I felt that I could run forever and hump a rucksack equally as far, but my emaciated upper body, as you had mentioned, just couldn't hack the pull-ups. There were a number of my ranger school classmates with me in jump school who were in the same condition. At the beginning of ranger school I was routinely doing 8-12 pull-ups at a time (8 for being in class #8, one for the "Big Ranger", etc.), but could barely squeeze out 2 at the PT test. I was given a week to "get in shape" and reported back the following Monday for another shot at it. [Reed note: One of my West Point classmates who was a starting offensive lineman on the Army football team flunked out of our airborne class in December of 1968 because he could not do any chin ups. You had to do six. Attending Ranger school had nothing to do with his problem. He was just fat. I doubt he was ever able to do a chin up in his adult life.]

I was able to crank out 4 pull-ups this time. The "Black Hat" NCO who was grading me happened to be wearing a ranger tab. He asked me if I had just graduated from ranger school. When I told him that I had, he passed me with no further questions asked. I went on to pin on my wings 3 weeks later. [Reed note: Being emaciated and weak after Ranger School is absolutely unavoidable. One of my Harvard MBA classmates told me his son was about to go to Army Ranger School and had some very tiny percent body fat. I said, “Tell him not to go. If he insists, tell him to pack on at least 15% body fat before he gets there to avoid literally freezing to death.” He, too, was going in winter like the writer of this email. If you go to Ranger School in winter, you should try to arrive looking like an Eskimo for the same reasons Eskimos look like Eskimos: to stay warm.]

I'm sure that you've received much feedback, both positive and negative, regarding your assessments of jump school and ranger school, so I won't add any more to those discussions. [Reed note: Not really. And almost all of it has been like this email.] I would like to add, however, that having a ranger tab and, eventually, master parachutist wings, gave me an initial degree of credibility as a military intelligence officer with the infantry types that I might not have otherwise had or would have worked harder to earn. Right or wrong, I think that some first judgments were always made as eyes scanned my uniform to see what was sewn on over the pockets or on the shoulders. [I agree that the ranger tab and airborne wings impress many who do not have them. But they typically are more impressed than they should be. Letting them, or encouraging them to, be thus over impressed makes you a bullshit artist. I did not wear the tab and corrected anyone who ever made an inaccurate statement about the school or its graduates. My article at this Web site on it is my ultimate attempt to not be a bullshitter about Ranger and Airborne nor to sin by silence while others exaggerate or embellish either accomplishment. Embellishing ranger is not harmless tall tale telling. People are dying at Ranger School and after they graduate because of bullshit about what supermen its graduates are] As a regular army officer in a combat support branch, I was "detailed" to a combat arms branch (infantry) for a year. In addition to ranger school and jump school, I attended the infantry officers basic course (MI didn't have one at that time) and served an assignment as a mortar and rifle platoon leader in the 25th Infantry Division for a year. When I left that assignment, the battalion commander said that he wasn't aware that I was not an infantry officer until the orders came down assigning me to the Division's MI company. I'm not sure whether or not to have taken that as a compliment!

Well, I think that's enough for now. I hope that you find some of this information to be of value, and please don't hesitate to contact me if you have any questions.

[Name not disclosed at his request]

John -

In the way random things happen in this world, I happened to listen to "Leaving on a Jet Plane" yesterday, which made me think of Ranger school, which today made me think of Lt. Bruce Strang, a ranger candidate in my class who died of hypothermia, which made me Google Strang Ranger school deaths which led to you web page.

Like your correspondent who previously reported Lt. Strang's death, I graduated from Ranger class 8/71 in March 1971. Your correspondent's report matches my memories of the experience, including Lt. Strang's death, but I knew Bruce fairly well at Ranger school and would like to add a few details. First, Bruce was a very nice, determined young man. Shortly before his death, he told me he had been successful at pretty much everything he had tried and was extremely worried that he would not graduate from Ranger school, possibly to the point of depression. I have always thought that his mood played a significant role in his death - not that he wanted to die, but that his resistance to cold was substantially reduced by his mental state. It was also, as you have mentioned, reduced by his physical state. He was slim to start with, and by that point in Ranger school was probably down to little or no body fat.

That night I was the far shore lifeguard on the river crossings, which meant that it was my job to strip off my clothes and swim across the river with a rope, tie it to a tree on the far shore, and help each Ranger out of the water. As a result, I had a specific worthwhile mission which, I believe, gave me a mental attitude that helped keep me warm. My recollection is that when I pulled Bruce out of the water, his hands were ice cold and he commented on how warm my hands were. I think if our mental states had been reversed, so might have been our outcomes that night.

While I agree with your comments about the necessity of keeping training within the limits of human capabilities, I would have to say that those limits are not all that easy to determine under circumstances like Ranger school. Nevertheless, had we been made aware of the dangers and symptoms of hypothermia (as we certainly were with frostbite), I might have made more of Bruce's comment. Adding training for the cadre and the students to watch for hypothermia symptoms might help. Of course, not allowing exposure to an extended period of cold and wet would help more, but given that hypothermia can be so situationally dependent, training in observing its symptoms might still be important.

As your previous correspondent pointed out, there were a number of delays that night - we got lost and we had to wait for a boat to pick up another Ranger candidate with groin pain. I knew that Ranger fairly well too, and as I remember it he had an infected testicle. Many of us had the kind of groin pain your previous correspondent mentioned, caused by freezing our asses off and I guess violent leg shivering, but his pain appeared to be on a whole different level.

In addition, there was another delay related to training. During the day before, the river crossing team trained on dry land, tying a rope to a tree, running to another tree, and tying the rope to the other tree. The trainers set increasingly short time limits for us to do this and we were surprised that we eventually could do it in a fraction of the time it initially took us. However, we did not train in undressing and dressing, and in particular, we did not train in undressing and dressing in soaking wet clothes. As it turned out, this took far more time than the rope related portion of the task. After the first crossing, I just left my clothes on and swam across dressed, except for boots. In my mental calculus, the possibility of drowning was not worth another 15 minute delay.

Bruce was not the only Ranger candidate affected by the cold that night. As I remember it, at least a dozen others were evacuated and spent some time in the clinic.

Which brings us to "Leaving on a Jet Plane." On the way back to Eglin, someone started singing it and we all joined in, to the best of our abilities. I suspect that it was counter to the approved training rules, but nobody tried to stop us.

Overall, my feelings about Ranger school are mixed. I did not end up going to Vietnam, but I didn't know at the time if I would or not. As you pointed out, Ranger school did not make you an expert in anything. But as you also pointed out, it did lead to an increase in basic competence that in your case may have saved your life or one of your soldier's. That's not too shabby. My brother had been to Ranger school (although in the summer), so my expectations for the general level of misery were more or less on target. What I learned there was not so much specific military skills, but rather what you learn from watching and working with people under stress and watching how the trainers - good and bad - worked with them. As with most of my education, a lot of what I learned was from the other students, including Lt. Strang. And part of that unfortunate lesson is, yes, there are limits on human capabilities, and if you are in a position of responsibility your should be paying close attention to them, not just in general, but as they affect each individual for whom you are responsible. One size doesn't fit all, it doesn't even fit the same person every day.
[name withheld by request]

P.S., I would prefer to not be identified on you web site, but you are welcome to send my address to your previous correspondent from Ranger class 8/71. I wouldn't mind sitting down and having a beer with him sometime. Or all of the class, for that matter.

Sent from my iPhone
On Apr 12, 2011, at 12:25 AM, Kayci Styles wrote:

Dear Mr. Reed,

Tonight my husband and I watched two TiVo'ed episodes of "Making the Cut" from the Military Channel. As a separated AF vet and current spouse of a career, enlisted Airman, this is a good Monday night for us after the kids are fed and homework and chores are completed. I was completely dumbfounded by these training methods. I could not believe that they trained our militarys' special forces with the same mentality as was used to train an Airman Basic at BMT! Really? Does the military seriously need to employ the tactic of "breaking down to build back up" in the most superior fighting forces that each branch of the services have to offer? To say that I was completely shocked is a drastic understatement! I just kept wondering if these men knew what they were getting themselves into prior to volunteering for these elite groups; if so, then these men are DEFINITELY masochists.

The two programs left such a profound affect on me that I looked on the Internet where I found your article. After reading it, I was compelled to write to you and thank you for appealing to the general public for the necessary changes made to the "curriculum" (and I use that term loosely) of these courses. I understand the need for a rigorous PT schedule within these "elite" units as the jobs that they are required to do demand it, but why the extreme brutality? Specifically, in the program entitled "Marine Reconnaissance" these men were forced to march three miles with their 70 pound packs on to an exercise ground where they were attacked with military-grade tear gas (of course without their CHEM gear) and "mortars" all night long. Only, to then, attack their "target base" the next morning. After their successful attack on their "target base", these men, then were forced to endure "the death march": the three mile hike back to their base with their packs, their four-man racks for "casualties", and the 200 pound dummies that the instructors mandated a chosen few were forced to bring along for the ride, all the while being, again, attacked by tear gas.

Now, I know that I am not a military tactician, but according to the program, the purpose of the Marine Recon Unit is to, covertly, be the first troops on the ground in an area and then provide intelligence of that area to the decision-makers in the upcoming units for an attack. If that is correct, then what does this final, graduation exercise have to do with their actual responsibilities following the course? For example, if they were taking enemy fire all night in a real-world situation, I'm pretty sure that someone knows where they are and they are not going to be able to sneak-attack anyone the following morning! But, then again, what do I know?

Also, I found the utter lack of safety protocols extremely disturbing! Specifically, the hours that these men suffered exposure to tear gas. Why? For what? In my life since separating from the Air Force, I have had three children with my husband, but I have also earned my A.A., my B.A., my MPH, and I am working on my PhD. I am a Safety Officer (among other things) and I cannot understand why anyone would expose someone purposely to any type of chemical (other than what is absolutely necessary)! For instance, during my military career, I was exposed to tear gas to prove the effectiveness of the equipment that I was given and like in your essay regarding the patrols, the original experience taught me all that I needed to know. After that, I checked my CHEM gear every month and kept it in pristine condition because I never wanted to feel that (or any other) gas ever again. I was disgusted that the instructors would force their students to exert their bodies while being exposed to copious amounts of the chemical for long periods of time simply for bragging rights.

Another major problem that I see with these "elite" classes is that as tax payers, we are just not getting our money's worth! If these classes existed in the civilian sector, they would be the first thing on the chopping block in this current economy because they do not teach the necessary information for the war-fighting of the 21st century, they take unnecessary risks, and they are simply not cost-effective.

In conclusion, I would like to thank you, again, for speaking out on a volatile subject that needs a complete overhaul! It is a tragedy to loose even one person on the battlefield, but I think that that tragedy is considerably multiplied when we have young men dying in the training to get there!


Kayci Styles

On Apr 12, 2011, at 9:30 AM, John Reed <> wrote:

The real reason for this nonsense is that sick puppy instructors enjoy doing it, the specialty in question and the graduates can brag about how tough it is, and nowadays, it gets them on the Military Channel. Some military schools like sniper seem to do it correctly. All teaching. High standards but no need for berating.
Dale Carnegie said the ability to speak in public is a short cut to distinction. In the military, willingness to put up with dangerous ordeals is a shortcut to the distinction of wearing some tiny piece of cloth.
Thanks for your kind comments,
Jack Reed

Here are a couple of emails I got from a reader about other elite military schools:

Thank you for your quick response. Since receiving it, I watched another episode of "Making the Cut" but was pleastly surprised at the teaching methods. In the Marine EOD school, the teachers do not just yell and call names. They actually have real-world scenerios for these men so that they can know (a little) about what to expect in Iraq or Afganistan. The only problem I saw with this class is the fact that the Marine EOD guys already had to go through all of those BS "elite" classes in order to get to one that actually might teach them something.

If you have the opportunity, I really recommend that you check out the Marine EOD episode. I think that you will also be pleasantly surprised.


Kayci Styles


Read your blog on Rangers and really have little with which to disagree. However, as an LRRP Team Leader
(173rd LRRP 1966-67) I must somewhat disagree on the physical fitness and intelligence levels you
describe about modern Rangers. Many of the LRRPs of my time came out of support units. They were
bright and physically capable guys who wanted to do something different. I came out of Administration
Company. I graduated from Recondo Class 03 with an Australian SAS platoon sergeant (Colour
Sergeant) as the primary instructor for the five us from the 173rd. We did well enough that he suggested
that three of us spend time with SAS to learn their refined techniques. I became an assistant team leader and
then a team leader, the only non career TL at the time. The other seven TLs were Ranger tabbed and five
were Ranger, Recondo or Red Raider cadre. Another had jumped with the 11th in the Philippines and both
drops in Korea and was on his fourth tour in RVN (he had been busted from E-8). Six of the folks that were
in the platoon during my time are in the Ranger Hall of Fame. The team leader of team 4 immediately after
me is retired CSM Pat "Tad" Tadina who had four years of patrolling, 10 BSMVs and two SS's The TL
immediately after Tad was Laszlo Rabel who received the MOH posthumously.

I had to go to Administration Company for some reason after I became a TL and ran into a guy I knew in management. His hobby was keeping a list of the highest GTs in the Brigade and he told me that five of the top twenty in the brigade were among the 40 or so
in LRRP. I asked him to look up my team's scores and he came up with a team average of 142. This included two guys who dropped out of high school in the 11th grade who had GT's in the mid 130's

It is to be noted that we had to go before an officer and team leader board and only about 25% were accepted.
I would further estimate that 25% of those who went on one or two patrols were dropped from the unit.

We had to be in damned good shape since it is to be admitted that most of our fights (meeting engagements occur no matter
how stealthy you try to be) resulted in aimed fire (gunfights) and then running like hell. Or to put it into proper PC terminology.
breaking contact. Lanchester's laws have been fairly accurate since 1916 in symmetric engagements and five man teams
that stick around to fight it out with platoons or reinforced squads are generally written off as MIA.

I would say that the jungle techniques that were most effective were those that we learned from the Australians. The ambush techniques that some of the tabbed team leaders wanted to use such as night rifle-fire ambushes were suicidal. The Aussies pushed using nothing but Claymores and hand grenades.

I retired as a senior physicist (GS-15) with the Army Research Laboratories at White Sands Missile Range in 1967 and was Unit Director for N Rangers (173rd LRRP/74th LRP/N Rangers) within 75th Ranger Regiment Association for six years.

Most of the guys I knew from those times have been reasonably successful in their careers and families.Others have had a succession of

I look forward to reading some of your other blogs in the future.

I assume further that you are not the John Reed who wrote Ten Days That Shook The World.

You may have been a bit unfair on the physical attributes of the elite units in not being able to beat civilians in the ultimate marathon events. I have jogged through a few marathons and floundered through a few tin-man triathalons. The folks that take these seriously train 15 to 40 hours a week.
Further, they have carefully chosen their parents to have the physiques to do these things.

Folks always find it amusingt that about mile20 in the Hawaiian Marathon, little old ladies in tennis shoes are zipping right past the fagged husky young Marines. Those little old ladies are doing 40 to 60 miles a week and have been doing such years.

The same is true for weaponry training. I shot combat rifle and pistol for a number of years at a moderate level. But even in the local matches in
Las Cruces, NM, most of the matches had half the competitors being National Masters who shot their match and the rest of us shot ours. These folks fired 50,000 rounds a year and basically wore out a Glock every 18 months. No one in the military other than competitive shooters will ever develop such skills.

I noted yesterday that the GT levels in the 173rd LRRP was quite high. I should like to note today that the physical capabilities were nearly as good. I can only speak confidently of Teams 3 and 4 since we were in the same hootch.

Team 3: Three district level first team football players, two cross-country/track and one track runner (TL on their big fight was
brigade adjutant at WP - he was the new XO after six months with 4/503rd and generally considered best platoon leader
in the Geronomo Battalion (it had been 1/503rd)
Team 4: I was a high school and college wrestler as well as a rock climber, my ATL was ranked in amateur boxing in LA,
RTO was football and track, senior scout was district level cross country and miler, junior scout was high school footballer.

Senior scout, Roger Bumgardner,has mentioned that learning to push past pain in the mile in the Illinois high school state
championships (he didn't place) made the difference in RVN - since we did have to run on a number of occasions.
Excuse me, we successfully broke contact.

I have close friends from 1st Bde of 101st LRRP and I believe that their standards were fairly close.

My original MOS was Science Assistant (since I had double major in physics and mathematics from college and was at Cold Regions Labs until I volunteered airborne. I probably became the only O1F20 (parachute qualified physical science assistant in the Army). Administration grabbed me when I got to 101st and made me a pay clerk. I did not received the CIB until I had patrolled for four months since I could not receive such until I was given a lateral promotion from Spec-5 disbursing specialist to Sgt E-5 of infantry.

It should be noted that the SEALs have had US Olympians as have had other SOCOM outfits. West Point has had numerous Rhodes Scholars but not all West Pointers are Rhode Scholars.

No one I knew in LRRP was a national level athlete but we had a few in the platoon that were of high school state level and good enough for scholarships at decent colleges. Probably one high school athlete out of 50 or 100 receives an athletic scholarship and I believe that an elite class athlete is less than 1%. of competitors We had a few of these in the platoon. It is estimated that it takes over 20 hours of quality training per week for 8 to 10 years to achieve world class status (assuming one has the genetics to do such). You were a football coach for quite a few years and are doubtless aware of this far more than I. I was a serious rock climber for 25 years (our younger son Charlie still hauls me up moderate climbs at age 70) and we definitely trained this much even 40 years ago. Modern professional rock climbers do far more than this.

Standards in all sports have increased dramatically over the last 50 years. I saw women's Olympics from 1956 and they did little more than balance on the balance beam, (leaps, dance poses, handstands, rolls and walkovers. In the 1960s, the most difficult acrobatic skill performed by the average Olympic gymnast was a back handsprin) not the incredible back flips and other stunts they now do.

Reed Cundiff

I appreciate informed, well-thought-out constructive criticism and suggestions.

John T. Reed