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in: Fitness, Health & Sports, Military History, Podcast

June 8, 2020 Last updated: July 20, 2020

Podcast #617: What It’s Like to Go to Army Ranger School

Which branch of the military has the toughest training course for its officers and special operators is a matter of animated debate, but there’s no question that the Army’s Ranger School is a viable candidate for carrying that designation. Over nine weeks, and three grueling phases, soldiers undergo physical, mental, and emotional challenges that test their endurance, resilience, and leadership.

My guest today went through Ranger School twice: first as an infantry officer in 2004, and then just last year as the first journalist to embed with a class all the way through the course. His name is Will Bardenwerper and he wrote an article about his experience for Outside Magazine called “Army Ranger School Is a Laboratory of Human Endurance.” Will and I begin our conversation with why he wanted to observe Ranger School from a third-party perspective after participating in it firsthand as a soldier. Will then explains the difference between earning your tab by graduating from Ranger School and being an official Army Ranger who belongs to the Ranger Regiment special operations force. Will then gives us a big picture overview of the three phases of Ranger School: Benning Phase, Mountain Phase, and Swamp Phase. We then dive into what happens in each phase, taking side trips along the way into the controversy of allowing women into the course, whether or not it’s gotten easier since Will went through, and the importance of doing well in the combat patrol exercises and peer reviews in which the students participate. We end our conversation discussing the lessons in endurance that civilians can take away from those who graduate from Ranger School and earn the tab.

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Show Highlights

  • Why Will went back to Ranger School as a third-party observer
  • What differentiates the Rangers from other Special Forces?
  • A rundown of Ranger School basics 
  • What are the physical fitness tests like? Is it more about actual fitness or endurance?
  • Group success vs. individual success 
  • Was it controversial letting women participate in Ranger School?
  • The intense Mountain Phase of Ranger School 
  • The impact of peer reviews and what really keeps people going 
  • What Will’s second Ranger School experience revealed about himself 
  • What can Ranger School teach us about endurance? The human condition? 

Resources/People/Articles Mentioned in Podcast

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