By Senior Airman Lauren Silverthorne.
The sounds of frogs, birds and cicadas rang loudly in his ears as the hot sun crawled across the sky. He hoped nightfall would provide a reprieve, but it only gave way to equally muggy and noisy nights.
Capt. Daniel’s tired eyes scanned the dark for alligators, snakes, and spiders while his fellow students hauled their pounds of gear through the thick mud. This pack of Army Ranger School students, sweaty and sore, made their way through a wet, mosquito-infested Florida swamp, and this was just one of the three phases the students would have to overcome if they wanted to earn the title of Ranger.
A U.S. Air Force member completing the U.S. Army Ranger Course may seem unusual, and that’s because it is. Being a Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) pilot from the 867th Attack Squadron, the Spartans, makes Daniel’s accomplishment of becoming a Ranger all the more unusual.
Daniel said he missed an opportunity to go through Army Ranger School years ago and he thought he would never have the chance to do it again. That was until Chief Master Sgt. Jamie Newman, Ranger and former 432nd Wing/432nd Air Expeditionary Wing command chief, challenged Creech Airmen to push themselves to try this very course.
“I always thought it would be such a special thing to do; to even try to be a part of that community, and see if you have what it takes,” explained Daniel. “It was just one of those opportunities that I couldn’t say no to.”
Newman shared his understanding for Daniel’s interest, as a Security Forces Airman by trade, it made sense for Daniel, a prior-enlisted Survival Evasion Resist and Escape (SERE) expert, to be interested as well.
Newman conducted a vigorous physical fitness test with all who were interested in attempting the course. The fitness test included the Ranger Physical Fitness Test, The Water Survival Test, and the 12-mile road march with a 65-pound rucksack.
“I established the date, and time, and all I asked was that they be ready,” Newman said. “Daniel was, and did fantastic!”
Thanks to Newman’s trial, experience and praise, Daniel felt validated in his pursuit of his Ranger tab.
“In stature, Chief [Newman] is such an impressive and intimidating guy,” Daniel said. “When he told me that he had confidence in me, and he thought I had what it takes to be successful in the course. I truly felt better about myself, and that inspired me to train even harder.”
Daniel began Ranger School at Camp Darby in Fort Benning, Georgia, during the summer of 2019. He, along with nearly 400 others, were ready to take on the 62-day challenge that if successful, would make them Rangers.
Daniel said each of the three phases of training were physically and mentally demanding. All the while, people were dropping out of the course due to task failure, injury or quitting.
Those who powered through completed land navigation courses, patrols, and many other exercises while navigating the hostile terrains of mountainous Georgia and the swamplands of Florida. Students also battled with unpredictable weather, hunger and oftentimes, very little sleep.
These stressors are intended to allow them to evaluate their abilities and weaknesses. At the end of the course, 85 people, including Daniel, earned the title of “Ranger.”
When asked what kept him going during the most difficult times, Daniel said, “Every free moment I had, I would just think about my family. Thinking about them was almost like an escape.”
Daniel also shared how important it was to him that he didn’t let down any of the people who supported him throughout his training.
“My command staff was 100 percent supportive the entire time,” he said.
“Daniel is the first RPA Airman to earn this impressive honor, ” said Lt. Col. Christopher, 867th Attack Squadron commander. “He is a trailblazer in the RPA family. As the largest MWS (major weapons system) in the Air Force, integration with our other services is critical to taking RPA utilization to the next level.”
Newman agreed, as a former leader of the 432nd WG/432nd AEW, he also showcased the dexterity of perspective Daniel now brings to the fight.
“His graduation from Ranger School as an Airman is a huge deal,” Newman said. “He will forever be a part of a team of teams that truly understands the ground, and as an Airman, understand air, space and cyberspace.”
Now back in the pilot seat in one of 432nd Wing’s Geographically Separated Units (GSU), as an RPA pilot and Ranger, Daniel now serves as a Ranger ambassador for the Air Force, and has begun offering to help train Airmen who are interested in accepting the challenge of becoming a Ranger.
“I’m excited to be an Air Force guy with a Ranger tab,” Daniel beamed. “I saw this as a challenge I wanted to take on, and where it will lead me from here, I have no idea, but I’ll know I gave it all I had, and I was able to succeed.”
Story: This article is a repost of “Reaper Airman fulfills dream of earning Ranger Tab”, DVIDS, 432nd Wing Public Affairs, by Senior Airman Lauren Silverthorne, May 15, 2020.
Photo: 2nd Lt. Timothy, remotely piloted aircraft student pilot, operates an MQ-9 flight simulator for training, Dec. 10, 2019, on Holloman Air Force Base. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Quion Lowe)