WAINWRIGHT, Alaska (1/14/2012) - First Lt. Ross Nolan (photo
left) says that not passing Ranger School on the first
attempt was the only thing he ever truly felt like he'd
failed at in his life.
“It was just this huge cloud
hanging over my head,” he says. “It was like, ‘you failed at
Now, roughly a year later, with experience
gained from leading the 3rd Platoon, Charger Company of the
1st Battalion, 5th Infantry Regiment “Bobcats” in combat
during their recent tour in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan,
the 30 year-old native of Fortuna, Calif., smiles while
sporting a small three-inch Ranger Tab.
infantry officers, the tab signifies the completion of one
of the most challenging experiences of their lives.
Nolan spent 63 days back in the Ranger course, and returned
home to the Bobcats and his platoon recently with the pride
that comes from having overcome a daunting obstacle.
A former enlisted Marine communications specialist, Nolan admits
that when he first transferred to the Army and was commissioned as a
second lieutenant in the infantry, he did not truly appreciate what
the Ranger Tab meant in Army culture.
“All of my IBOLC
[Infantry Basic Officer Leader Course] classmates had branched
infantry long before going into Ranger School, so they knew it was
coming,” he says. “For me, I really didn't understand the
significance of the tab until right before I got into the school.”
Nolan failed to get past the first day of the school during
the notoriously stringent push-up component of the Ranger Physical
Fitness Test and was immediately removed from training and sent to
join his unit in Afghanistan.
He served as a platoon leader
in combat for four months before returning to Fort Wainwright.
As soon as he got back, he says, his thoughts turned to
returning to Ranger School, and he succeeded in securing a class
date for October 2012.
His second attempt presented no
difficulties and Nolan returned to the Bobcats two months later ...
albeit substantially thinner ... having gone straight through the
Reflecting on his experience, Nolan admits that his
Army experiences, particularly his combat experiences, contributed
to his success.
“My [platoon leader] time probably gave me
an edge in that I knew what to do,” he says. “A lot of the guys in
Ranger School are coming straight out of commissioning, going to
IBOLC, and then on to Ranger, and have not had any real experience
in leading a platoon-sized formation continuously under really
stressful circumstances. They're not used to always being tired,
always being hungry, and still being in charge.”
Nolan also admits that he wishes he'd received Ranger training
before becoming a platoon leader himself.
“This is graduate
school for the infantry,” he says. “The constant focus on
perfection, and the threat of not passing if you fail to execute
everything to perfection, make it obvious to me why the Army wants
its platoon leaders to have a tab.”
Nolan's own experience
of having attempted, failed, and then successfully completed Ranger
School have informed his opinion about the importance and
desirability of an officer completing the course.
he would say to a fellow officer who claimed he didn't need to go to
Ranger School, Nolan's response is direct: “Yes, you do,” he says.
“It's OK to try and fail, but I think all infantry guys should at
least aspire to go to the course, because it is so demanding,
because of the level of intensity of the small-unit tactics. It
definitely made me a better leader.”
“I think I did well as
an untabbed PL,” he adds, “but by the same token, most of the guys
who do well as platoon leaders without their tabs also tend to be
the guys who are chomping at the bit to go to the school again.”
Nolan says that the most important factor for anyone considering
Ranger School is determination.
“If you don't actually want
it, don't go. You have to want it bad,” he says with emphasis. “The
next most important thing would be for you to get past the Ranger
Assessment Period [a series of tests conducted over three days to
assess a candidate's suitability for Ranger training] and then
simply not quit.”
“Do not overestimate the physical aspect
of the school,” Nolan says. “You can do so much more than you think
you can, even at 30 years old. Even at my age, I probably learned
more about myself through Ranger School than through anything I'd
Courtesy of U.S. Army 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team
Infantry Division Public Affairs
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