By Hailey Haux.
Better leaders up and down the chain, commissioned and non-commissioned; that’s what the Air and Space Force will get when Airmen and Guardians are sent to the Ranger Assessment Course (RAC).
As a commander and supervisor, wouldn’t you want those kinds of highly motivated, trained and dedicated Airmen on your team? It all begins with supporting them and sending them through the RAC.
Recently, 15 Airmen, 15 Soldiers and one Guardian put that thought to the test during a Ranger Assessment Course, the Air Forces’ version of the Army’s Small Unit Ranger Tactics, or SURT. The Air Force RAC is a 19-day course designed to assess the physical and mental toughness of Airmen and Guardians who are interested in attending Army Ranger School.
“Ranger school is the Department of Defense’s premier combat leadership school, there’s really no better reason to go through a school than that,” said U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Luciano Rosano, RAC Instructor. “Some leaders are born, some leaders are made, some leaders are forged through fire. Whether you graduate or not, everyone comes out of school with a different perspective on life.”
While going through the Ranger Assessment Course, the students learned skills such as battle drills, land navigation, and small unit tactics like ambushes which ultimately led to an understanding of combat leadership, followership, troop leading procedures, communication skills, accountability, performance under stress, intestinal fortitude and much more.
“Integrity first, service before self, excellence in all we do, and character, connection, commitment and courage,” said Gabriel Rodriguez, Readiness Training and Ranger Assessment Course program manager. “These are the Air and Space Force’s core values respectively; the principles that help guide decision making and vector to take a path toward mission accomplishment are the same. No matter what you’re wearing on your uniform, it all ties into being united and growing together as one interconnected force on the same mission in protecting our country.”
The Airmen, Soldiers and Guardian worked together throughout the course, further reinforcing the need to understand what it’s like to operate in a joint environment and in turn how to better support one another once they return to their respective units.
For the Guardian, his every-day job is developing satellite communications tools for warfighters. During this course, he was able to get first-hand exposure to those communications tools and how they work out in the field.
“One of the biggest challenges that I think I’ve faced in my work back home is we design a system that doesn’t meet the intent of the warfighter, and that comes from a lack of communication and a lack of understanding,” said U.S. Space Force Capt. Daniel Reynolds, RAC student coming from the 4th Test and Evaluation Squadron out of Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado. “At courses like this we take individuals who are working in space, and we get them together with individuals who are the tip of the spear, executing these missions, engaging the enemy face-to-face. That’s where we learn how to design better systems and capabilities.”
The National Defense Strategy identifies four top-level priorities that the Department of Defense must pursue to strengthen deterrence, and the fourth priority is, “to ensure our future military advantage, we will build a resilient Joint Force and defense ecosystem.”
“In the joint environment we all have the same mission, so maintaining the relationships and unit cohesion with all my teammates—Soldiers, Guardians, Airmen, etc.—is crucial so that whenever we work together—now or in the future—it goes smooth,” said U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. John Aldaco, RAC student coming from the 820th Base Defense Group out of Moody Air Force Base, Georgia. “These are all my teammates around me, and they are crucial to success in this course and will be crucial all the way through Ranger School and beyond.”
Truly representing a joint force, there were service members from numerous Air and Space Force Specialty Codes and Army Military Occupational Specialties in the RAC. It ranged from Army infantry to Air Force medics a Space Force developmental engineer, and included career fields like engineer officer, military police, contracting, security forces and others.
“Being here, they are learning how to operate in a joint environment,” said U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Douglas Brock, RAC Instructor “These Airmen—and Guardian—are exposed to working alongside their Army counterparts; learning how to lead service members to fight onto an objective and complete the mission. The benefits of this course, as well as Ranger School, are increased mental and physical toughness, enhanced leadership skills, broader knowledge of military operations and a huge sense of accomplishment.”
While going through the RAC, students not only learned about the technical tactics, but they also conducted physical training and ruck marches to prepare them for the requirements at Ranger School. During the Ranger Assessment Phase week at Ranger School, students are required to complete 49 push-ups, 59 sit-ups, a five-mile run in 40 minutes, and six chin-ups. RAP week is culminated with a 12-mile foot march with each student carrying an average load of 35 pounds. After the RAP, – which lasts four days – generally, only two-thirds of the class will make it to the patrolling phase, or Darby Phase.
“I’ve really enjoyed seeing the hunger in the Airmen and their eagerness to succeed because the Air and Space Forces don’t get very many Ranger School slots every year, so they have to be incredibly competitive and willing to push themselves to get those slots,” said U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Bryan Dabous, Lightning Academy Small Unit Ranger Tactics Instructor. “Ranger School is a leadership school, and it puts people in extremely stressful conditions. They teach them and they evaluate them, then those graduates go out and become leaders. If they are able to operate and lead in the most difficult conditions, they will be able to operate anytime, anywhere—ground, air, space, etc.”
Of the 31 total candidates that started the RAC, 19 completed the course and 15 met all the standards needed for a recommendation to go to Ranger School where their determination and grit will be put to the test and hopefully earn that coveted tab stating that they are Ranger qualified.
For Airmen and Guardians, earning their Ranger tab may be harder to come by, but that shouldn’t stop them—or commanders—from putting their hat in the ring. Since 1955 when the Air Force first began sending Airmen to Ranger School, a little more than 350 Airmen have graduated, and returned to their units with more knowledge and experience in leading. Those 350 Ranger Qualified Airmen were able to teach what they learned to those within their units, making the Air Force even better as a whole.
“Airmen and Guardians while at Ranger School will be exposed to a combat environment facing stressors like sleep and food deprivation, extreme weather conditions, and the stress of succeeding the course,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Daniel Mack, RAC Instructor. “Anyone can lead in good conditions, but can you lead when you are hungry, tired, and fatigued? Additionally, can you get others to perform when they are in the same conditions? Completing the course or not, Airmen and Guardians go back to the Air and Space Force as a better leader.”
As an Airman or Guardian, if you are thinking that Ranger School is just out of reach, you may just be wrong—you might have what it takes and they only thing to do is give it a try!
One of the many misconceptions of the RAC and Ranger School is that you must be 100% ready before you even attend the Ranger Assessment Course—but that’s where most people are wrong. Yes, you need to prepare for it, but according to U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Keegan Donnelly, RAC instructor, the RAC curriculum has undergone an intense review and rewrite to craft a leadership laboratory. It has been designed in such a way where they teach and coach the students then assess their abilities which has proven to be a more digestible approach for the Airmen and Guardians wishing to attend. Regardless of their recommendation to move onto Ranger or not, they are still returning to their units a better trained and more lethal. adaptable leader in the joint arena.
“The amount of discipline, wide range of experiences and learning how to manage stress and find your best self is really good for anyone who wants to take this on,” said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Oliver Ancans, RAC student coming from the 354th Contracting Squadron out of Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. “Ranger School is a leadership school so getting the opportunity to go through it, learn and grow from it and then passing down the knowledge and discipline is important.”
Right now, the Air Force is heavily focused on Agile Combat Employment and Multi Capable Airmen. These concepts empower Airmen and Guardians who go through the Ranger Assessment Course, Ranger School, and become Ranger qualified to understand any mission and can assess and execute any task; anytime, anywhere.
“The NDS and the demands of warfare with a peer competitor can pose different challenges which being Ranger qualified makes Airmen or Guardians diverse in the foundational skills that enable them to succeed in a contested, degraded and operationally limited environment with minimal support,” said Rodriguez. “ACE teams consist of multi capable airmen able to provide mission control and base operating support as the mission dictates. By minimizing the footprint of personnel, Ranger qualified Air Force members can increase survivability and complicate adversary targets. Ranger school and RAC already bring all types of AFSCs and U.S. Army MOSs together to accomplish the same mission supporting higher headquarters’ guidance. Each member brings a different specialty, trained to meet the adversary all while trained under arduous conditions similar to those of combat.”
Being Ranger qualified means that those Airmen and Guardians are trained in a wide range of skills indicative to ACE and MCA such as land navigation, small unit tactics, reconnaissance, etc.
“A Ranger qualified individual has a reputation for being highly motivated and highly disciplined,” said Rodriguez. “This makes them well-suited for the demanding tasks that are often associated with MCA and ACE missions. This sense of camaraderie can be invaluable in the high-pressure environment of an MCA or ACE mission. When they work together, they can accomplish anything.”
While navigating their way through the RAC, the Airmen, Guardian, and Soldiers were looked after by a team of joint force medics—further displaying how integrated the Air Force is with its Army counterparts.
“It’s important to share the workload, integrate with our joint service members and share our different experiences,” said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Aubrey Rowe, 15th Wing Operational Medical Readiness Squadron Independent Duty Medical Technician. “I’ve really enjoyed being part of this joint team and building the trust between us as medics, the instructors, and the students. Over our time here, we’ve been able to learn from each other in order to protect the health and safety of the students.”
One thing commanders can be sure of if they send their Airmen and Guardians to the Ranger Assessment Course is that it’s a valuable tool for identifying and developing future leaders, and it builds unit cohesion by having the diversity of training and talent within their ranks.
“Wearing the Ranger tab, to me, means embodying the idea that you are expected to face adversity, danger, and difficulty for yourself and those that you lead or work alongside. That you have a unique personality trait of choosing to face any challenge head-on and under any unknown terms,” said Rodriguez. “Someone who will do all they can to help others no matter the cost. A team player that leaves no one behind, and shares what they have. They will endure hardship, injury, and danger to accomplish the mission. Someone who doesn’t give up!”
Recognizing that I volunteered as a Ranger, fully knowing the hazards of my chosen profession, I will always endeavor to uphold the prestige, honor, and high esprit-de-corps of the Rangers.
Acknowledging the fact that a Ranger is a more elite Soldier who arrives at the cutting edge of battle by land, sea, or air, I accept the fact that as a Ranger my country expects me to move further, faster and fight harder than any other Soldier.
Never shall I fail my comrades. I will always keep myself mentally alert, physically strong, and morally straight and I will shoulder more than my share of the task, whatever it may be, one hundred percent and then some.
Gallantly will I show the world that I am a specially selected and well-trained Soldier. My courtesy to superior officers, neatness of dress, and care of equipment shall set the example for others to follow.
Energetically will I meet the enemies of my country. I shall defeat them on the field of battle for I am better trained and will fight with all my might. Surrender is not a Ranger word. I will never leave a fallen comrade to fall into the hands of the enemy and under no circumstances will I ever embarrass my country.
Readily will I display the intestinal fortitude required to fight on to the Ranger objective and complete the mission, though I be the lone survivor.
Rangers Lead The Way!
This story by Tech. Sgt. Hailey Haux was first published on August 30, 2023, by the Defense Information Visual Distribution Service. DVIDS content is in the public domain.
Photo: Ranger Assessment Course students run up the largest hill—known as Big Ivan—May 23, 2023, Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. During the course the Airmen, Soldiers and Guardian worked together, further reinforcing the need to understand what it’s like to work in a joint environment and in turn how to better support one another once they return to their respective units. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Hailey Haux)