Time to Welcome a New Era of Rangers
By Nick Palmisciano
Before I arrived at West Point at the age of 17, I had a very clear image of what a cadet was supposed to be. I pictured an athletic stud who was disciplined beyond reproach. A guy who could run all day, ruck all day, lift any weight, and conquer any obstacle. And when I showed up, that’s pretty much what I saw all around me. Honestly, at 5’8”, I felt like I was one of the weak links, as everyone else pretty much looked like a cross fit athlete. And then there were the girls.
The girls were all studs in their own rights, but in an environment dominated by alpha males, 88% of whom had captained a team in high school, they simply weren’t looked at the same way. They couldn’t run quite as fast, couldn’t do as many pushups, and in my day, they didn’t have to box like the men did.
Over time, though, a funny thing happened. Some of these total stud guys started quitting. Yeah, they were physical specimens, but between the ears, they just didn’t have it. But lots of my “weaker” female classmates hung in there. By the end of plebe year, things had changed. More and more, it had less to do with physical ability and more to do with moral courage and personal discipline.
By the time we graduated from that God-forsaken place, you had no choice but to love every last one of your classmates – man and woman, stud and less than, cool cats and weirdos alike, because to get through that place requires more intestinal fortitude than I can explain to anyone who didn’t go there.
We went our separate ways and shortly thereafter, I found myself at Ranger School, which is another terrible place. Things that happened to me at Ranger School in no particular order: lost 55 pounds, fell off a mountain, got stress fractures in both of my feet, scorpion bites, spider bites, minor muscle tear, shit my pants due to food poisoning, went to the brink of being a heat casualty but got saved by a massive rainstorm, got fire ant bites on my penis, saw magical creatures of the forest because of sleep deprivation, and sank a boat. Nevertheless, I graduated as a member of class 7-99 in the prescribed 62 days. I vowed I would never step foot in that fucking place again.
God has a sense of humor and after several years of leading infantrymen, I found myself back at Ranger School, this time as a member of the cadre. I’ve never been around a more professional group of people. They have one standard. The Ranger standard.
Which brings me to today. Two women from West Point are about to graduate from Ranger School.
I’d be lying if I told you I thought it would happen. I didn’t.
When I heard everyone failed Darby, I shrugged and said, “Of course they did. It’s too hard.”
When I heard everyone failed the second time, I said, “Of course they did. What did anyone expect?”
When “feminists” ranted in the New York Times that they were being picked on by an unprofessional cadre and that’s the reason they weren’t passing, I said, “That wouldn’t happen. The cadre wouldn’t diminish themselves like that. There is only one standard. The Ranger Standard.”
And then I heard a handful were getting a third shot. Lots of men immediately started freaking out saying they were getting special treatment. “No, I explained. If the cadre believes in a student, and the student is willing to accept a Day 1 recycle, they can get another shot. There is only one standard. The Ranger Standard.” That’s the way it was when I was there. That’s the way it is now. It was telling that all of the women didn’t get the third shot. If they had, everyone would know it was bullshit. The cadre had gone to bat for them.
A few capitalized on that third shot. They made it to Mountains. I heard through the grapevine that they had received solid peer scores. This was also awesome news. You see when you arrive at Ranger School, you kind of show up with friends. The Officers. The Bat Boys. The 82nd guys. The SEALS. But something magical happens as you go through it – the more you suffer, the more you start hating the weak links. You literally start hating them. It doesn’t matter if you drank every weekend together before Ranger School, if a guy was a spotlight Ranger or didn’t pitch in, they were going to get peered out. Officer, Bat Boy, 82nd…it didn’t fucking matter. If you were good, you were staying. If you weren’t, we kind of wanted you to die.
That didn’t happen to these women. Their squad valued them.
I found myself starting to root for them, but I also knew mountains was a sonofabitch. The constant climbing breaks you physically in a way that the Darby phase simply doesn’t. I was pretty sure the journey was about to end.
But it didn’t. They drove on yet again.
Two women had made it to Florida, the final phase. Florida is an odd phase – very few people fail at that point, but the summer heat is brutal and the chances of being a heat casualty are high.
But the heat didn’t stop them.
Two women have endured over 120 days of abject misery to pass the most elite leadership course in the military. Two members of the long gray line are now Ranger Qualified.
And I’m proud of them beyond comprehension, but more than that, I’m blown away. I’m blown away, because I know how hard that school is. I know how much it takes out of you. I know how many times you feel like you might not make it, and you have to make the decision to just keep putting one foot in front of the other. I know how many times I wanted to quit. And I also know that these two ladies are not men. They don’t have my frame. They don’t have my muscle mass. They don’t have my testosterone levels. Which means they hurt more than I did. Which means they had to dig deeper than I did. And they made it anyway. And they suffered for four months to do it.
And that means they’re tougher than I am.
And that’s exactly who I want leading our soldiers.
Now, I don’t know what all of this means for the infantry, or by extension the SOF community. I am well aware that these are different things than passing a course.
The Army will figure that out in time.
But what I do know is that the hate being leveled at these Rangers is unacceptable. We want leaders who push themselves beyond their limits. We want leaders who want to excel and develop every way they can. Whether the Army integrates units or not, that doesn’t change the fact that these ladies are hard as fuck and are the absolute best America has to offer. They literally have no quit in them.
So, as the proud saying goes, Rangers Lead the Way.
And ladies, you just did.