Pass Ranger School!

(Today's update:  August 2014 packing list update!)

Whether you are a Private or a Colonel, you're here to find out how to earn your Ranger tab.  This page will give you all the info you need to start off on the right foot and to finish Ranger School with a first-time GO.  Here you'll find:

And for when you graduate and earn your tab:
  • Great gifts for new Rangers
  • Books and movies about US Army Rangers past and present
  • And more . . .
Good luck, God speed, and RLTW!

ROTC LDAC and the Road to Ranger School

For many young Soldiers, completing the ROTC Leader Development and Assessment Course (LDAC) is a critical step towards the eventual completion of Ranger School.  In this post, I'll talk about why LDAC is so important to future officers who want to earn the Ranger Tab, and also give some hints and ideas related to the packing list, TACSOP, etc.

What is LDAC?

There is plenty of information on the web about LDAC, stating its purpose is to "train U.S. Army ROTC cadets to Army standards and to develop leadership and evaluate officer potential."  Much more important to those who want to earn the coveted Ranger Tab is the next part:  "this is accomplished through a tiered training structure using light infantry tactics as the instructional medium."  Think of LDAC as a baby step towards Ranger School -- a chance to develop light infantry basic skills, get experience leading a group of Soldiers you just met, and identify early weaknesses to work on before you head out to your Officer Basic Course.

Also, stop for a moment and think about how you'll actually earn a slot at Ranger School.  As an officer, your best chance by far is by branching Infantry.  To maximize your chance of doing that, you have to get higher in the ROTC Order of Merit List (OML).  And to do that, you have to earn high rankings in your ROTC Regiment. 

See how it all fits together?  Now let's dig into the details.

The Packing List

Here is an example of an ROTC packing list.  "Isn't that list a few years old?"  Sure is -- Cadet Command seems to hide the packing list each year, but luckily it doesn't change much.  There are a few basic things you'll definitely want to get, so why not buy items you can also use when you get to OBC and then Ranger School?  I have already posted the Ranger School packing list with plenty of hints and suggestions, so head over there to check it out.  Pay particular attention to items like the headlamp, gloves, etc. -- these are items that should last you years.  If you order any items from Amazon, you should sign up for the Student Amazon Prime program -- a good deal that is only available if you have a .edu email address.


You will be carrying your TACSOP with you during your entire time at LDAC, and you'll most likely refer to it oftent during your MS IV year while training the other Cadets.  Why not prep it up to last by giving it the same treatment you'll give your Ranger Handbook? I give a good overview on the best methods to use here.  Not only will the TACSOP last longer, but you'll also become familiar with this method and figure out your own tricks as you go along.

The Terrain Model Kit

Just like at Ranger School, you'll need an LDAC Terrain Model Kit.  You'll use it to plan out operations and brief the other Cadets, and you'll be able to save most of the pieces to reuse at OBC and Ranger.  Even if you think you'll lose everything, now is your chance to figure out what works for you -- which pieces are important, do you want to use chalk or not, etc.  Here is an entire post on the kit.

The end?

If you follow the advice I've already put together, I'm confident LDAC will just be the next step in your path to Ranger School.  Remember:  train as you fight.  Treat LDAC (and every other military experience) with the seriousness it deserves, and the fun will come along with it.  Next thing you know, you'll have great skills, great memories, and great opportunities ahead.

Ranger School Chin-Ups (Not Pull-Ups)

Looking good -- bar at collarbone level.  But watch those feet!
The Ranger Physical Fitness Test (RPFT) has four events:  the push-up, the sit-up, the 5-mile run, and the chin-up.  Although only one or two people fail to achieve the 6 chin-up minimum each cycle, that shouldn't matter to you. This is what is important:

  • Practicing the chin-up will make certain you have no stress about that event
  • If you work on chin-ups, you'll be stronger at rope climbs
  • The chin-up will help you with rappelling in Mountains
  • You'll be doing chin-ups before each meal in garrison
  • The chin-up will help you when you get to The Wall on the first field day of Mountains
  • The chin-up strengthens the back, balances your chest muscles, and will reduce injuries overall
So, pretty important, right?  Let's break down this exercise and how to do it right.

First thing first:  you will fail the chin-up event of the RPFT if you don't do them strict.  Strict means that the Ranger Instructor (RI) will stand about six inches in front of you and will direct your movements.  The only part of your body that should move is your arms.  So here is the breakdown:
  • When the RI says "mount the bar" (or "get the f**k up on the f'in bar"), mount the bar by jumping up and grabbing it with your palms towards you (palms away would be a pull-up).
  • Hang completely slack so you are fully extended.
  • When the RI says "up," pull-up using just your arms -- no movement of your feet, knees, or abs.  A good trick here is to tense your lower body slightly and point your toes downward. At the end of your pull, the bar should be right at the level of your collarbone -- not just below your chin.  Get comfortable -- you'll be there for a second.
  • When the RI says "down," lower down in a controlled way to a full dead hang.  Again, slightly tensed body with toes pointed downward will keep you from swinging.  Get comfortable again -- you're on the RI's schedule.
  • At this point, the RI will either keep directing you or will just tell you to continue.  Do not rush this -- straight up with just arms, brief pause with the bar at collarbone level, controlled downward to full dead hang, brief pause at bottom, then back again.
  • After your sixth chin-up, go to a dead hang and wait.  The RI will tell you "dismount" or "get the f**k of my g*ddamn bar, Ranger." 
  • Congratulations!  You just passed the RPFT and you're officially in the class for RAP Week.
The takeaway?  Forget the guys in the gym doing 1,000 chin-ups.  Forget the awesome kipping and butterfly pull-ups you're learning at the CrossFit box.  And forget going fast to build your numbers.  Get on the chin-up bar and work like you're doing the RPFT.

What do you need?  Nothing but a bar:
  • Here is the basic bar I used -- hangs from any standard door and doesn't need any bolts or screws.
  • Here is a super-fancy bar -- same price, but I've never used it.
Chin-up Time!
But guess what?  You probably have a playground near you -- and that means there is probably  playscape with a horizontal ladder ("monkey bars") or even a set of pull-up bars ready to go.  Just don't be creepy -- go in the morning when kids aren't there.

CrossFit and Ranger School

The very best way to prepare physically for Ranger School is to follow one of the PT plans posted on this site. They were created by the school, approved by Army fitness instructors, posted on the official school site, and followed by countless students who have since earned the coveted Ranger Tab. And they are strongly influenced by CrossFit.

Why CrossFit? The best answer is to quote from the CrossFit site itself: "constantly varied functional movements performed at relatively high intensity" will create true fitness.  And that quote? Also a perfect summary of RAP Week. If you want to make it through those first days and actually get the chance to earn your Ranger Tab, you need to "train as you fight."

Although a CrossFit affiliate is the best place to go, you can always get the basic gear yourself and do the PT plans on this site on your own.  Here are a few basics I recommend:

Reebok Nano shoes:  these shoes are designed to improve flexibility and maximize your natural strength by positioning your feet and hips correctly.  Go to any CrossFit box and 90% of the people will be wearing them.  The Nano 3.0 is worth the money, but if you're on a budget you can definitely buy the Nano 2.0 and get great results.  

Kettlebell:  Most CrossFit workouts (called workout-of-the-days or WOD's) have men using a weight of 1.5 or 2 pood (53 and 70 pounds).  Don't worry about that. If you are new to the kettlebell and you're buying it to train for Ranger School, 53 pounds is the most you should get. I'd recommend 45 pounds for a smaller guy and 53 (or close to it) for a bigger guy.

Speed rope:  Learning to do double-unders will build leg speed and strength to help you pass the running events. This rope is cheap, easy to size correctly, and fast -- exactly what you need.

Bumper plates:  Ok--let's not get crazy.  You definitely don't have to buy these to get ready for Ranger School.  But if you want to build a basic CrossFit setup at home, bumper plates (along with a bar and collars) are essential.  The proper use of this equipment is beyond this post, but the videos in the PT plans are a good start.

Running to Ranger -- the GPS watch

At the end of the day, Ranger students need to be able to run -- and a key part of your training should be mixing up a variety of distances, times and terrains.

First, regular running will turn whatever body type you have into the "lean-and-mean" variety, which is exactly what you want for the low-calorie, high-output days you'll have to handle for two (or more) months.  If you have a ton of muscle, expect to lose much of it during Darby, and expect to feel the loss.  Once you start smelling the ammonia in the field, you'll wish you had leaned up more beforehand and made your muscles as efficient as possible.

Second, running prepares your body for the stresses of long days on your feet, and for the slow but consistent energy output that Mountains will demand from your legs.  You want to build up the stamina of your lower body, and a combination of rucking and distance running is just the thing to do it.

Third, running is an easy metric to keep you on a training schedule.  As you follow the training schedules on this site, you'll see that they require regular runs of different durations and distances.  Rather than just run on a track or a fixed path, why not get out, mix up the terrain, and explore?  This is where a GPS watch comes in.

Although there are tons of GPS watches to choose from (Garmin, Timex, and Nike are the top brands), I strongly recommend the Nike+ Sportswatch.  The simple reason is the online tracking program.  After each of your runs, you can sync the watch to Nike+ Online, and it will track everything about the run -- the path you followed, the average pace, the distance, etc.  You can even add notes to each run, and can export the runs to share the path with others.

Even as you run, the watch can provide you with positive feedback, letting you know when you have set new distance or pace records.  For the Ranger student in training, this can be helpful during those long solo runs that none of your buddies want to do with you.

At the end of the day, a GPS watch is not a necessity -- but it sure is a helpful tool.

ONE IMPORTANT NOTE:  You cannot bring a GPS watch to school with you!  Check this packing list for recommendations on items for school.

Terrain Model Kit for Ranger School

Why do you need a Terrain Model Kit?

Standard Sand Table
  During the planning phase before every mission, you have to prepare and brief your entire Warning Order (WARNO) and Operations Order (OPORD) to your Soldiers.  During the Execution paragraph, you will spend a long time going through every single step of the unit's movements and tasks -- and you'll do it on your sand table.

A Terrain Model Kit is a portable map set you use to setup a model of the terrain you'll be covering during your mission.  It has to have everything you need for every type of mission, as well as additional pieces that help you to model obstacles and terrain features you expect to see.

What should be in it?

  • A complete set of laminated, colored cutouts for every type of squad and platoon unit.  You have to laminate them to write on them, and to protect them from the elements.  Here are a few starter options:
  • An extra set of alcohol markers and eraser -- keep them in the kit and don't use them for anything else or you'll lose them.
  • Ten feet of colored yarn -- at least five different colors.  You can use cord, which is thin but durable, or knitting yarn, which tends to fray over time.  I recommend going to a craft store (Michael's, Hobby Lobby, etc.) where they sell the yarn on arge spools and you can cut off and buy only what you need.
  • Thick sticks of sidewalk chalk -- you'll scrape these with your knife to fill in water, greenery, etc.
  • Index cards, cut into quarters and laminatedYou can use these smaller squares to show landing zones, linear danger areas, target reference points, and a heck of a lot more.  I would make at least 20 of them.
Have additional ideas?  Put them in the comments below!

Developing Mental Toughness for Ranger School

Ranger School is, above all else, a test of your mental toughness -- your ability to lead your men and complete the mission despite your hunger, lack of sleep, frustration, and physical exhaustion.  A common misconception is that you have to be in the best physical shape of your life to pass Ranger School.  While that is true (and you need to be on a focused PT plan like one of these), physical fitness is only half the preparation.  In fact, I believe the majority of guys that fail RAP Week do so because they haven't built up their mental toughness.

So how do you do it?

First:  check out the Ranger Training Brigade brief called  "Developing Mental Toughness for Ranger School" -- it's a great overview of what they mean by mental toughness, but it's also heavy in confusing charts and graphs that won't mean much to you now.  What you need is some concrete advice.  Which leads me to . . .

Second:  start identifying your mental weaknesses and addressing them head on.  Here are some weaknesses and fixes.
  • PT'ing in your comfort zone.  Start finding ways to push yourself extra hard during PT.  The very best way is to get a training buddy who has been to Ranger.  My buddy used to add on extra "surprise" exercises at the end of a session.  I remember doing a full-on sprint workout to the point I thought I'd puke.  The second I finished the last sprint, he made me drop down and do Ranger push-ups to failure.  The point wasn't to test my push-ups -- it was to test my mental toughness and my ability to go beyond my comfort zone.  The feeling you get doing that will be quite familiar once you get to School, and you'll know how to handle it.
  • Fear of the water.  No matter how great of a swimmer you are, you need to spend some time in the water in ACU's and boots.  Try treading water for 15 minutes.  Try swimming 200 meters with a weapon.  Try jumping in the deep end, going to the bottom, and coming back up five times in a row.  And don't skip the awesome swim/push-up/sit-up workout on the 90-day PT prep page (day 25).  Unlike the normal Combat Water Survival Test, you will fail the Victory Pond day at Ranger School if you show fear or hesitation.  Pushing yourself past your comfort zone now will making you look and feel more confident when you have to do the Slide for Life, gear drop, etc.
  • Rucking like you're walking.  This is a big one -- Ranger School is not Air Assault, or the German Proficiency Badge, or your "hardcore" unit ruck.  Don't get lulled into thinking you can do what you've always done.  By the time you get to the ruck march in RAP Week, you'll be physically and mentally exhausted -- and it's the mental part that will make you fail.  When you are rucking in training, mix it up and push your limits.  Ruck with a weapon and force yourself to keep it at the low ready the entire time (I would switch from right to left-handed when I got tired).  Hit the woods and ruck some shorter distances on steep terrain.  Do a few rucks alternating rucking with jogging (but watch your body -- don't break yourself before you get to Ranger!).  If you find yourself zoning out and slowing down, you're doing it wrong.  If, like me, you genuinely feel like you might start crying on the 16th mile -- good stuff.  You're developing mental toughness.
  • Big ego.  Many people fail out of Ranger because of big ego -- ego with Ranger Instructors, ego with peers, and ego with self.  As you train up, now's a good time to start humbling yourself.  Take that hard-charger attitude that got you this far and shift it a bit -- keep the fire but lose the arrogance.  Stop checking out the mirror in the gym and focus on your true fitness.  Don't talk about Ranger all the time -- just silently prep for it and show your unit you're the best by acting that way.  Help out the guy at your unit who you find the most annoying -- it's good practice for the annoying guy in your squad who you'll be stuck with for months.  The more you genuinely convert yourself into a team player now, the easier that adjustment will be when you get to Ranger School.  You'll do better on peers, and you'll actually be a better peer -- which is what a Ranger should be.
I'll post more on this topic in the future, but I hope you'll  post some thoughts and ask some questions in the comments section.