FORT 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 this.'”
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.
For most 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 course.
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.”
That said, 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.
Asked what 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 previously done.”
Courtesy of U.S. Army 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team
25th Infantry Division Public Affairs
Provided through DVIDS
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