Story by 2nd Lt. Brandon Mulrine, 2nd AAB, 1st Inf. Div., USD-C
BAGHDAD—In order to select and prepare the best candidates to fill a limited number of slots for the Army’s elite Ranger School, 1st “Dragon” Battalion, 63rd Armor Regiment, 2nd Advise and Assist Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, United States Division – Center conducted a Pre-Ranger Course in late July while deployed in support of Operation New Dawn.
The month-long preparatory and selection course was led by Staff Sgt. Jeffery Paluso, a squad leader with Company A “Aces,” 1st Bn., 63rd Armor Regt. and a Chapman, Kan., native, and Staff Sgt. Gregory Werthmann, the senior targeting noncommissioned officer with 1st Bn., 63rd Armor Regt. and a Seattle native, each of them having recently earned their Ranger tabs, which signify successful completion of Ranger School. They used their experience to select the best candidates while giving them the tools to graduate the notoriously difficult Ranger School.
“The [Pre-Ranger Course] gives the Soldiers of the Dragon Battalion the opportunity to improve on the many skills they will need to complete the actual school,” said Paluso. “These [prospective] Ranger-qualified Soldiers will benefit the battalion even if they aren’t selected, not only by the training they will receive and leadership development, but by their ‘lead by example’ candor and professionalism.”
The PRC consisted of a wide variety of training events and classroom instruction, but the heart of the program consisted of patrolling simulations and physical challenges upon which they could be graded.
“Our task was to conduct a PRC consisting of a Ranger Physical Fitness Test, a 12-mile foot march, two-mile buddy run, obstacle course, planning bay procedures and basic patrolling procedures,” said Werthmann. “The RPFT is similar to the regular Army test, but is a bit more exacting—in addition to the sit-ups and pushups, the RPFT has a five-mile run and the candidates have to perform some quality pull ups.”
Some Soldiers found it challenging to work in a PRC while simultaneously conducting a full load of combat operations. Only 30 Soldiers from the Dragon Battalion were able to attend frequently enough to be considered candidates. Also, many of the events had to be repeated in order to afford each willing Soldier an opportunity to attend a training or qualification event they may have missed due to being on a mission.
“It was the hardest part from our perspective,” said Paluso. “Being deployed, everyone’s schedule was tight, and [we] repeated many of our classes to fit everyone’s schedule.”
Seven of the 30 Soldiers would eventually compete in every PRC event. From among them, only four were selected.
“You learn to exceed your limits there [at Ranger School],” said Werthmann. “The more Ranger-qualified Soldiers we have in the Battalion, the more capable and effective fighting force we will have.”
The four Soldiers will be returning to Ft. Riley early to prepare themselves to attend the 62-day Ranger School. Pass or fail, they will return to the Dragon Battalion better Soldiers from the experience. “The opportunity to learn what is required of us at Ranger School was an eye-opener,” said Sgt. Alex Knittel, a team leader with Company A, 1st Bn., 63rd Armor Regt. and a Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., native, “but I feel more confident now in my abilities and am even more excited to join the ranks of Ranger School graduates.”