Female soldier move to florida Phase of Ranger School

by Chuck Williams
Columbus Ledger-Enquirer

EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla, (Tribune News Service) — For 167 Ranger School students, Tuesday was just another day of challenges. This time, the obstacle was Yellow River, an 118-mile stream that starts in south Alabama and snakes its way toward Pensacola Bay.

As part of the swamp phase, the final test in the most difficult training the U.S. Army offers, the students practiced crossing the muddy water on a one-rope bridge they tied to pine trees on either side. They got wet doing it.

They also paddled downstream in a Zodiac, a heavy-duty raft, hitting a landing point a few miles away.

Though they are at Camp Rudder, an Eglin outpost, they are looking to Aug. 21 when those who survive will graduate Ranger School at Victory Pond on Fort Benning.

Two of the 167 are looking to make history and become the first women to earn the Ranger tab. The women, both West Point graduates the Army has not yet identified, were indistinguishable from their classmates during Tuesday's river training.

All of the soldiers had the same look of fatigue and determination, said. Lt. Col. Bart Hensler, commander, 6th Ranger Training Battalion.

"The Ranger School students arrive here in Florida pretty beat up," Hensler said. "The Benning phase is challenging. Go to the mountains — very physically demanding climbing up and down the mountains. By the time they get here in Florida, they are probably in the worst shape of their lives."

And you could see it on their faces Tuesday afternoon as they listened to a Ranger instructor lecture on the finer arts of an ambush in an open-air classroom that offered a taste of the Florida heat and humidity.

"You have Ranger students who are tired, hungry and mentally and physically spent," Hensler said. "Part of our job is to provide a safe training environment, but to keep them motivated and moving toward graduation. Not a lot of sleep. Not a lot of food."

The Ranger instructors, as they have at Camp Darby on Fort Benning and at Camp Merrill high in the north Georgia mountains, insist that the course's demanding standards have not been lowered.

Sgt. 1st Class Nicholas Cottrill was charged with student safety Tuesday morning as they worked in the river. The women are being treated like any students, Cottrill said.

"Nothing has changed," he said. "Our job is to teach them to be combat leaders, but not only to be combat leaders, but leaders."

The women will benefit from the course, Cottrill said.

"Women are in charge of troops in the Army," Cottrill said. "You want them to be good leaders and this is the premier leadership training in the Army."

But Cottrill knows he is working with soldiers who are highly stressed, many of them near a breaking point.

"They are all in zombie phase down here," he said.

Both of the women who are still in the game have been in the course for 108 days, having started on April 19 at Fort Benning. They both failed the initial patrol phase at Camp Darby twice and were offered and accepted an opportunity to start the course over from the beginning. They restarted two days after the class they started with in April graduates. The women are the survivors of 19 females who started the course on April 19. A third woman, also a West Point graduate, did not pass out of the mountains last week and will restart the mountain training this week.

Ranger School students are graded on small-unit patrols. This class will not start the Florida patrols until later this week. They will complete those patrols on Aug, 16, which is when Army officials should know if either or both of the women will graduate.

©2015 the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer (Columbus, Ga.)
 Visit the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer (Columbus, Ga.) at www.ledger-enquirer.com
 Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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