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John T. Reed’s review of the book The Coveted Black and Gold [U.S. Army Ranger Tab] Part 1

Posted by John T. Reed on

My birthday gift from my ranger buddy is a book about ranger school based on the diary of a West Point cadet who went there in June and July 1980 while he was a cadet on summer leave. My ranger buddy and I and about half of our West Point class went there in Class #69-3 in August, September and October of 1968.
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First, giving up your summer leave to go to ranger school strikes me as certifiable insanity. You have plenty of time to go through such crap after graduation. For my class, we got 2nd lieutenant pay and it delayed our going to our first unit and to Vietnam. Is it some sort of sacrilege? If you are eager to go to your first unit and to Vietnam, you are at least a bit nutty. You will better serve the unit and your Vietnam unit if you have a normal amount of training and experience when you arrive. Why get there early? To show off. If you are so eager to get into “action,” skip West Point.
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I am 22 pages into the book. Clearly, it is the official party line and the Hollywood hype version. My article on ranger school is at https://www.johntreed.com/blogs/john-t-reed-s-blog-about-military-matters/65802307-elite-military-units-army-rangers
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My article is most certainly NOT the party line. One quote in “JD Lock’s” book is that it is the “seminal” work on the subject. My lengthy web article is one of the only works on the subject. So is Lock’s. So it strikes me as a bit much to call either or any others as “seminal.” They are for certain few in number. When the number of ranger books is just one or two, they are likely both “seminal.”
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If you are interested in ranger school—especially in attending it—read BOTH my article and Lock’s book. For the purposes of this article, I guess I should change my name from John T. Reed to JT Reed so I sound as macho as Lock.
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I graduated from West Point June 5, 1968. I entered ranger school in August 1968 Class #69-3. So did my West Point classmates who chose Armor, Engineers, and Signal Corps as their branch. The rest of my West Point classmates were in the class behind me.
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I was awarded the ranger tab on the aristrip at Eglin AFB at the end of the course and later learned, to my amazement, that my ranger buddy and I had both been recommended to be brought back to the ranger school as instructors! Thank God our being instructors there never happened. I wanted nothing to do with ranger school either in 1968 or later.
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They also had a contest to see who could throw a grappling hook tied to a rope over a higher ledge. Only two in my ranger class did that. I was one of the two.
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They claim to be all volunteer. Bull! I was forced to go there by my choosing the signal corps. I could have chosen Military Intelligence or some other non-ranger required branches and thereby gotten out of going to ranger, but that would have put me into the Infantry for my first two years and into Vietnam sooner. It might have gotten me killed in Vietnam. Infantry had the highest KIA rate in my class.
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I do not know how many of my West Point or other classmates flunked ranger, but it was significant. Was I better then them. I was better than several of my West Point classmates who refused to carry the radio or M-60 machine gun when it was their turn. Sons of bitches. As far as the others who did not get the tab, I would say who passed and who flunked seemed to me to be random. But they almost certainly had a flunk quota that had to be filled so those who passed could brag about how super duper they were to have passed. Bullshit! Other than those shirkers, if you can go through four years of West Point, you can pass ranger school.
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Lock says only 25% pass on the first time. That is what my West Point classmates and I did. When we were there, there were no second chances. I wince at the thought. If you crawl naked over broken glass for a month but “flunk,” you get to crawl naked over broken glass for ANOTHER month, maybe to “flunk” again. No thanks.
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I never wore the ranger tab except briefly just before I got thrown out of the Army for “defective attitude” four years later. My JAG lawyer ordered me to do it for the hearing on his theory that it might cause the hearing board to like me. I laughed. They did find me “not guilty” of refusal to expend effort—damned nice of three non-West Point, non-airborne, non-rangers to declare that I was “not guilty” of refusal to expend effort—so maybe wearing the tab worked to that extent. Whatever. I did not wear it in the 82nd Airborne or when I was a platoon leader in Vietnam or when I was a company commander back in the states after Vietnam. It is now in a gray locked metal shoe box they issued to us at West Point along with my other military detritus like dog tags, ribbons, rank insignia, name tags.
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I always thought that wearing stuff like that reminded me of the cub scouts. Grown-up civilians do not wear a Harvard MBA badge or a County Little League All-Star medal or a CEO of a prior Fortune 500 corporation ribbon. I am a grown-up civilian.
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Lock says not to assume that the leadership techniques he used should not be assumed by readers to be the best ones. He said leadership is individual to each leader. That is correct and good advice.
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What leadership techniques did I use in ranger? I have nothing to say about that. I just was myself and did what seemed needed at the moment. I did not do a lot of navel gazing about leadership. A lot of WPers DO do a lot of navel gazing about that.
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Lock says there are no secret to ranger school. I thought there were a few and I revealed them in my article. No big deal.
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Lock says the Ranger Creed is sacrosanct. It’s first sentence is a lie for many like me who were forced to go to ranger school. It says we were all volunteers. They wish.
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The creed brags at length about what great super soldiers we were. The honest version is we had two months of infantry training combined with severe sleep and food deprivation for maybe half the course. If two months training makes you superman, bring me some kryptonite to test my super powers.
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The creed says I will never leave a comrade behind. That is an improper policy. See my article: https://johntreed.com/blogs/john-t-reed-s-blog-about-military-matters/66446147-john-t-reed-s-comments-on-purported-policies-against-never-leaving-a-military-comrade-behind-dead-or-alive
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By the way, that creed was written six years after I graduated from Ranger School.
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On page 28, Lock says in June 1967 ranger school became mandatory for all officers with a Regular Army commission (technical term). So why are they claiming it was all volunteer? Because I volunteered to go to West Point? And how come my WP classmates who did not choose a combat arm, but who did get an RA commission, not have to go to ranger school?
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There was temporarily a desert phase in Ranger School after I graduated. They later ended it. Rangers cannot operate in Desert. They have to hide.
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Lock says on average, ranger students lose 30 pounds during the 61 days of the course. I would have guessed a little less than that. I would also say that I doubt that any legitimate medical doctor would approve of such a rapid weight loss.
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Lock constantly refers to the tab as the “coveted black and gold.” It’s orange, not gold. And protesteth so much that it must be called “coveted.”
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If it was so coveted, why does he need to keep saying that. Looks like he will use that phrase, and never tab or Ralnger tab, for the whole book. Pretty tedious. And coveted by whom? 14-year-old boys would be my guess.
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There are 19 test you must pass to get the tab on page 34. They look like a very pale version of the requirements to be an Eagle Scout. One, for example, is to do six chin-ups. I doubt there was ever a time before I was about 50 when I could not do six chin-up. And I was not working out as a kid.
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The book makes much of the notion that the more you train the less you bleed in combat. It is not that linear.
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I know that well from a non-military context. I played and coached football for many years. I wrote eight books on football coaching. https://www.johntreed.com/collections/football-coaching-books
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In football, we film our upcoming opponent’s game the week before we play them. Then, in practice that week, we have our players pretend to be the upcoming opponent and run the opponent’s offense, defense, and special teams.
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And that is crucial to football success. But practice time is precious. The military guys speak of training as if you had an infinite amount of time to get ready. We had three days each week in freshman football.
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In reality in the 82nd Airborne and in Vietnam, I was never allowed to train my troops except for one ad hoc mission where I had to get a team of A/N GRC 26-D radioteletype operators ready to deploy to a joint US/ARVN ranger operation at Bunard, Vietnam. I mainly focused on the task of transporting the equipment, about the size of a pickup truck RV, it fit into the back of a 2 1/2-ton truck, and restoring it to service after a rough take-off and landing in a C-130. We ran the equipment over rough road then tried to fire it up. It would not work. We figured out what was broken then got extras of that part. Then we tested it again over rough road. Eventually, we identified all the parts that were likely to break during the flight and either gave them special protection or made sure we had extras. In the event, shortly after we landed, we had the GRC 26-D doing its job, because we did that training and testing. Most rewarding thing I ever did as an officer, but a rare oasis of actual doing what being an Army officer is supposed to be about.
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Did I learn how to do that at Ranger? Hell, no! At West Point? No. It was just kind of common sense from thinking it through. In Lock’s book, the message is sort of any unpleasantness they subject you to at West Point or ranger school is great training that may save your life in combat. My experience in Vietnam was all but unrelated to my training in ranger school or West Point.
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One main point is that training at Benning, Dahlonega, and Eglin ain’t Vietnam or Afghanistan or Iraq. To be valuable, it is best that training be in the same sort of terrain and climate. Training also ought to be joint. Combat is. But training is almost never joint. In Vietnam, the Army worked a lot with the Air Force; on the coast, with the Navy. Also we worked with Army medical people in Vietnam, but never in ranger school. You could train for ten years in the US Army and easily end up in combat where hardly any of the training was pertinent to your combat.
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Apparently, West Point and the Ranger regiment give their guys who are going to ranger school a lot of prep—weeks of practice in map reading and other early ranger school challenges. We had no such prep in 1968.
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At West Point and ranger school now they have a combat water survival test. We seem to have had the basic idea but I do not recall that name for it.

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