by Joseph Sheeley
Previously, our Army JROTC program at my high school was discussed. In this article, I’ll tell about the Ranger Team.
Our JROTC program had three teams, the Rifle Team, and Ranger Team, and the Drill Team. I was never an official member of the Drill Team, although I did compete in two competitions with them on short notice when a member had dropped out and they needed a replacement (more on that later). I joined the Rifle Team my freshman year, and the Ranger Team as a sophomore.
Of the teams, I considered the Ranger Team the best. I had never gotten to camp as a child. My father said once that if he got distracted and crashed the car one time that we would end up camping. After that we always joked that we were hoping that the car would crash so that we could “go camping.” Clearly he wasn’t the outdoorsy type, so I’d gone the first 15 years of my life without camping.
Ranger team camped, but not exactly. We’d go on what were called FTXes, which stood for “Field Training Exercises.” On these we would usually leave after school on a Friday, arrive late at night, set up in the dark, then spend Saturday and Sunday morning on activities before returning home Sunday afternoon.
We’d always return exhausted on Sundays because this wasn’t roasting smores around the campfire sort of activities. This was things like ten mile orienteering courses through the woods, up and down hills, punctuated with activities like practicing first aid, target shooting, rowing a raft across a lake, or rappelling down a cliff activities. Generally you were out doing something physical from 5 AM; when you would get woken up for calisthenics consisting of push-ups (really slow ones), jumping jacks, squats, sit-ups, and then a two or three mile run; until you were ready to get into your tent Saturday night after a full day and evening of activities. The only time that you were able to sit around a campfire was at 2 AM when you got woken up for your hour of fire watch. (Often there would be four or five “fire watchers” at 5 AM since people would decide to just stay up all night after their shift. We eventually had to establish a “no all-night fire watch” rule.)
Getting onto Ranger Team was not easy at all. It started out with a qualification day at the high school where you needed to do at least 45 sit-ups/minute and 45 push-ups/minute, do 10 pull-ups, do a long broad jump, and run three miles in less than 25 minutes. You would need to meet at least all but one of these requirements. If you succeeded, the next step was the Canal Walk. Here you started at a supermarket in the middle of Phoenix at 10 PM, then walked ten miles out on the banks of one of the canals, then walked all the way back and over to the Squaw Peak Park, getting there around 6 AM. We’d normally fall asleep for about 30 minutes on the concrete or in the dirt because we were so tired by that point. You then needed to climb up and down Squaw Peak, which was about 1.5 miles and 15oo feet each way, to complete the walk, getting done maybe around 8 AM.
If you succeeded there, you then on alternating years either do a hike up and down Mount Baldy in Easter Arizona, which is an 11,421 foot peak so named because it is above the tree line, or hike down the South Kaibab Trail to the river and back up the Bright Angel Trail in the Grand Canyon. With Mount Baldy, because we started at our camp instead of driving tot he trail head, it was a 22 mile hike. Many people would get a headache once they got above 10,000 feet, making them grumpy until they got back below that level. The Canyon was 25 miles, starting from the early morning when you were freezing and lasting through the noon hours at the river when you were sweating like crazy, only to get back up to the rim around 8 PM, right after sunset when you were freezing again.
The uniform for the Ranger Team was the woodland camouflaged “battle dress uniform” (BDUs) of the Army with a camouflaged Marine hat, starched crisp so the points would stick out full and the black Army boots, shined so that you could see your face in them. Some cadets had a wide-brimmed “booney hat” that they would wear when out in the field. You’d stick an ace of spades in it to be cool (I put a Joker in mine). You’d bring your backpacks with your gear in on Friday morning before an FTX and wear your BDUs all day at school. You would bring knives for the FTX and there got to be a competition to have the longest knife. I won with a ten-inch survival knife that would hang off my side like a sword, sharpened on both sides with a saw blade on one side. Note we brought these to school and left them in our packs in the JROTC building and never had any issues. Things were really different back then.
On the FTXes, we would have the National Guard support us by bringing out a deuce-and-half truck with a water buffalos on back for transportation and water. We would ride in the back of the deuce-and-half, which had only a canvas cover so it would get really dusty in the air when we took many of the long dirt roads to one of our campsites. Often on Saturday night we would play what we called “escape and evasion,” and sometimes the guard members would join us since they didn’t have anything else to do but sit around for the weekend.
In escape and evasion, two teams would separate and form a base, then the other team would try to sneak in and steal your flag and get back to their base without getting caught. If you got caught, you’d sit near the capturing team’s fire until the game was over. I don’t remember anyone actually succeeding at doing this, but it was a lot of fun. You would often go out for miles in the dark, doing as quietly as you could as you got near the other camp, just moving a foot a minute or so on the ground. One of the most successful tries was when one of the older cadets just came stomping into base, acting like he was directed to do so. He nearly got away with it, but one of the guardsmen caught on and tagged him out.
When you got back on Sunday evening, you were often so sore that you could barely walk out of the truck. I often feel like that now since I’m older after a long hike, but this was back when I was a teenager and bullet proof. But the Ranger attitude was always that you could do anything and nothing mattered. If you were driving out to the campsite and someone asked how far you were, the answer was always “ten more miles.” On a 20 mile hike, the answer was always “ten more steps.” You were on the Ranger Team, so you could do anything.
That’s probably the biggest thing I learned in Rangers was that your attitude is everything. If you had a bad attitude, you were miserable even on a five mile hike. If you just decided that it just didn’t matter, however, you could do twenty five miles and have a good time doing it. I also learned that you make the closest friends under adversity. When you go through things together, you become closer. I still remember seeing one of my best friends, who was the XO while I was Battalion Commander, head off from our all night senior lock-in to real Ranger School ( but first basic training and airborne school).
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