Time to Welcome a New Era of Rangers

Updated: August 17, 2015


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.

They were simply weaker.  That’s just the way we looked at it, and West Point wasn’t really a place for weakness. ranger-tab-limited-edition-sign-50

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. RangerCreed

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.




  1. John

    August 18, 2015 at 1:37 am

    In this you are absolutely correct. I have all sorts of problems with the larger issues of women in combat units and I’m pretty sure it’s going to end in a lot of dead people, but like you, I didn’t think this was going to happen. I thought the first female graduate of Ranger school would be a tranny. These ladies did something that the vast majority of men cannot do. Knowing what (little) I know about Ranger School, these ladies were not given any significant special treatment and they passed anyway. I’ll tip my hat to them.

    • DawnMarie

      August 18, 2015 at 9:45 am

      When I grew up in NY, I worked at West Point.. I watched the Cadets train through snow, heat & rain… This article brought back memories and makes me so happy inside and out for these Brave Women! God Bless them and I pray that all will understand, that if God chose a Woman to Birth The Savior-He can choose a Woman to do almost anything! God Bless and Protect our Our Military
      & Veteran Men, Women, & their Families and all Personal in Civic duties of Police/Fire/EMT/Doctors/RN’s and alike!

  2. Charles Mandelin

    August 18, 2015 at 7:47 am

    I never had the privilege of going to Ranger, or any other Army school (Navy corpsman, attached to Marines). I don’t have a dog in the fight insofar as whether a woman passes or doesn’t pass, except if they lower the standards. If they can pass within standard, good on them, welcome to the club, praise the Lord, and pass the ammo. I feel much better about the graduation after reading this because no matter what us armchair QBs say, the only people who are qualified to comment are the been-there-done-that. Thanks for an eye-opening article and unique perspective.

  3. John

    August 18, 2015 at 11:30 am

    Miky, As proud as you are of these new Rangers, I bet your wife is more proud.


    August 18, 2015 at 2:56 pm

    I heard multiple accounts that the third try for the female’s was more relaxed in such of physical toughness. I have heard that there were no more smoke sessions during that class and the ruck weight was changed. Can anyone confirm or deny that statement?

  5. J-P.

    August 18, 2015 at 7:34 pm

    I completely agree. Having been on Cadre at VMI the year we accepted women, I can assure you women can meet the same standards as men. We kept all standards exactly the same. Exactly. The only changes we made were to demise and segregate the communal showers and reduce profanity, albeit temporarily. Men quit in droves, beginning the first day. The women did not. They were physically and mentally prepared. They persevered through four years and graduated. Ranger School is no different. Especially in that course, there is no way to dilute the standards. You either suck it up, push through and graduate, or you don’t. If they made it through, especially after multiple recycles, they deserve both the Tab and our respect. There are already successful all-female combat units in other countries. Perhaps it’s time we had our own – the best one on the planet. (B Co, Class 5-00, RLTW)

  6. Rich T.

    August 19, 2015 at 4:50 am

    Let’s not forget a Tab is a School and a Scroll is a Way of life. When someone tells me they’re a Ranger, I ask what Bn? I graduated Ranger School as a PV2 with no recycles, and yes I was a Batt-boy. Wearing a Tab does not make you a Ranger it makes you Ranger qualified and congratulations for that. Only you will know if you really earned it and as for now there’s no smoking gun so enjoy your accomplishment. Make sure you take what you’ve learned and do great things with your new found skill set. Because if you don’t you just wasted a slot for a future leader. I’m not keen on Ring Knockers but I did work with the best of them. 1/75th Rgrs Lead the Way!

  7. Gaylord Smith

    August 19, 2015 at 11:10 am

    I’m Ranger Class 4-70. Only 56 days then, but it was uber tough. I will always be proud. From what I have seen in documentaries and features, it is even tougher now. If they met the standards, they are welcome.

  8. Steve

    August 19, 2015 at 1:29 pm

    Nick, I gotta say I’m disappointed that you’ve either drank the Kool-Aid or succumbed to outside pressure. This post is a far cry from your “Damned Few” episode that used humor to make a strong point about incorporating women into direct combat roles. Make no mistake, sending women to Ranger School was never about self-actualization or personal accomplishment (as if the Army has ever been focused on such selfish pursuits for rank and file men), but rather the next step in justifying the total removal of the combat exclusion rule. These two (of the original 138, or 1.4% for the statisticians) haven’t even pinned on their Black and Gold and the media outlets are already pounding the drum to open all direct combat jobs in DoD to women. Nick, have you changed your mind on this issue as well?

    As a USMA grad (and Ranger School grad), I agree that mental toughness often trumps physical ability in determining success. However, how many of your female classmates would have had the success they enjoyed at school if they were held to the same physical standards as their male classmates? How many of your female classmates’ rucks did you carry during Infantry Week at Buckner? I clearly recall humping more than just my ruck on a number of occasions in the name of ‘teamwork’. More importantly, how many women do you think would have even been accepted by the school if they had to meet the same physical entry standards on the CFA as their fellow male applicants? You know first-hand that female cadets were required to meet less demanding standards on the semi-annual APFT, IOCT times, and weren’t required to box Plebe year or wrestle Yuk year, ostensibly due to their ‘fairer’ nature and weaker physical constitution. Even today, female Plebes aren’t required to box, and those that request to do so are only required to box another female; they don’t even box males in their same weight class. Athletically, women aren’t required to compete against men–the Academy spends ever dwindling funds to field a separate women’s rugby team, boxing team, lacrosse team and others rather than make women compete against men for positions on these teams.

    While these two women may have demonstrated personal courage and mental fortitude to stick with Ranger School despite multiple failures and second & third chances (and yet to be discussed ‘helping hands’ that will inevitably be exposed in the coming months and years as RIs and fellow students feel less threatened by de facto gag orders), you know very well that their personal accomplishment represents a far larger, socially driven movement that the Army won’t “figure out”; it will be directed to implement regardless of the impact to the direct combat units that will have to bear the brunt of accommodation and reduced effectiveness in the name of artificial equality. Surely you can’t be in support of making the already demanding job of the US infantryman even harder.

  9. Nick Benzschawel

    August 19, 2015 at 3:06 pm


    Do you think that women should be in the Regiment?


  10. Andrew

    August 19, 2015 at 10:56 pm

    Well said, Ranger P! Your article brought back a lot of memories, good and bad. I agree that the RIs and other cadre would not compromise the Ranger standard. I think you would have heard the fallout of some of them resigning, or requesting transfers elsewhere if they were ordered to. And we’ll done to these two new Rangers.

    Andrew Mylander
    ROTC Distinguished Military Graduate ’89
    Airborne 39-87
    Ranger 8-90 (started 7-90, recycled Desert Phase)
    XVIII ABN Corps Artillery, Gulf War I

  11. John Roat

    August 20, 2015 at 7:17 am

    Ranger, are you willing to see you daughters subject to the draft? I am not. Every woman that takes a spot takes a male spot that is subject to the draft.

    Class 29, UDT 21, UDT 11 SEAL Team

  12. Shawn

    August 20, 2015 at 9:26 am

    What a crock of sh#t. They changed the physical requirements for the women. The fact that you don’t call a spade a spade is why this country is in the shape it is. Wow man up or should I say RANGER up

  13. Fred Johnson

    August 20, 2015 at 9:51 am

    Got my Tab more than 47 years ago. There were no Ranger Battalions then only a 75th Ranger Regiment with 15 separate Ranger Companies – 12 of which were in Vietnam. I commanded one of them. I got to realize the dream we all had in Ranger School – please God, let one of these LI’s (Lane Instructors as they were called then) be assigned to me when I get out of here. One of my toughest LI’s did become one of my Team Leaders in Vietnam and yes, he was terrific. Let’s not kid ourselves, everyone who goes through Ranger School does not have the same experience. Nature takes her toll – falling off mountains, etc. Not everyone carries the radio or machine gun. If you do graduate, you’ll become part of a band of soldiers who are truly unique. You might even get lucky enough to pin “your tab” on your son as I did. Now it could be your daughter. Toughness always rises to the top. I congratulate our Army’s newest Rangers. One other thing, when you wear THE TAB, you’ll find some soldiers go out of their way to tell you why they “couldn’t” get one. RLTW!

  14. Old Grad '65

    August 23, 2015 at 1:24 pm

    Well said Nick, and WELL DONE to the two Rangers you wrote about. As an old grad who earned the tab 50 years ago I must say The Corps has NOT gone to hell. It has kept on getting better.

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