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First female with 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne) rejects failure, graduates U.S. Army Ranger School

Spc. Thoman Johnson is reporting out fo Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM), Washington that “A new legacy begins at 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne) as the first female Soldier from the unit graduates one of the toughest courses in the U.S. military, the U.S. Army Ranger School on August 27, 2021.”

Ranger tabs are not easy to earn, the school has an attrition rate of more than 60 percent, and not everyone who strives to earn the tab has what it takes. The school is held in a few phases, first the basic phase at Ft. Benning, Georgia, then the mountain phase in the Georgia mountains followed by the swamp phase in Florida.

When asked why she chose to complete Ranger school, the African American captain and executive officer with 1st Battalion, 1st SFG (A) simply responded with, “Why not?”

Her desire to become Ranger qualified stems from the first two female Soldiers graduating from the course during her junior year in college. After seeing the news of their accomplishments, she began looking into the school herself.

“I did my research and saw that it was the premier leadership course of the Army, and it offered a way to truly test yourself in the harshest conditions,” she said.

“When I saw what the course offered, I knew immediately I wanted that challenge.”

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A U.S. Army captain assigned to 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne) becomes the first female in the unit to graduate Ranger school. During the course, students rise above mental and physical exhaustion in order to properly lead Soldiers in small-unit tactics across various climates and terrain. After graduating, the Ranger Qualified are better trained, more resilient, and better prepared to serve and lead Soldiers. (courtesy photo) (Photo Credit: U.S. Army)

The captain stayed persistent throughout her first four years in the Army as she trained and mentally prepared to attend the course. Her company and battalion leadership recognized her potential and approved her request to attend the U.S. Army Ranger School.

“I’m super grateful to [1st SFG (A)] for giving me that chance,” she said. Lt. Col. Erik Davis, 1st BN, 1st SFG (A) commander, said he is proud to have her within his ranks.

“[She] is tenacious. She’s incredibly professional, but she’s also not going to sit back and wait for permission to act or offer her perspective. She gets involved early, and she doesn’t quit,” he said.

Reminiscing on the time period following her acceptance into the course, the captain reaffirmed that being at Ranger school is a continual privilege and not something to take lightly. “No matter how bad it hurt each day or how tired you were , it was always a privilege to be there,” she said.

After using the 1st SFG (A) state -of-the-art training facilities and working through her own training program for four months, the captain flew from Okinawa, Japan to Fort Benning, Ga. to begin her Ranger journey.

However, nothing worth having comes easy. If one manages to pass each phase of Ranger school on the first attempt, then they’ll complete the course in 62 days. For the captain, it took more than 100 days before she became Ranger qualified.

The captain’s journey began with the Ranger Training Assessment Course. This course ensures students can perform certain tasks to the Ranger standard before attending the U.S. Army Ranger School. Unfortunately, the captain suffered an injury during the land navigation portion of the course and was released from the class.

After healing, she went on to the Ranger Assessment Phase of Ranger school, which is in the first week of the course. During this phase there is a 12-mile ruck march that the captain failed. However, this didn’t deter her from wanting to try again. She got in contact with her unit and told them she had a chance at getting into the next class for the course.

“I’m willing to give the course a go one more time just to know for a fact that I gave it everything I had,” she told them.

Following approval from her unit, she made it into the next class and continued to fight for the privilege to earn the Ranger tab, this time meeting the ruck march standard and completing RAP week.

Her next hurdle came with the second phase of Ranger school , the Mountain Phase.

Mountain Phase lasts for 20 days. During this phase students learn the basics of mountaineering and do several field exercises involving reconnaissance, patrols, ambushes, and raids. The captain failed the patrol portion of the course and had to decide if she wanted to leave the school without achieving her goal or complete the entire phase over again.

“When I found out I had failed patrols and I was going to [have to redo mountain phase], I felt so defeated mentally and physically,” she said.

Despite these overwhelming challenges she mustered her resiliency to persevere and accomplish the mission.

“That was the most challenging part of Ranger school. Trying to put myself in a place of positivity and remind myself of why I wanted to be at the course during the three-week holdover period before the next mountain phase began.”

The captain stressed the importance of having a close support system of people who cared about her deeply and could be relied upon throughout these trying times.

“I intentionally surrounded myself with positivity and communicated with family and friends during that period who would breathe life into me,” she said.

During her second Mountain Phase she ran into a member of a partner force of 1st Group ; A Royal Thai Army’s 1st Special Forces Regiment captain who was a part of the unit that she worked with during a Joint Readiness Training Center rotation in 2020. Even though they weren’t in the same class, anytime they saw one another they gave each other words of encouragement reinforcing their commitment to finish out the course.

“It was great seeing a member of our partner force at Ranger school with me and getting to graduate together,” she said.

At its core, Ranger school tests the strength of one’s character during arduous conditions. The captain said she learned valuable lessons about herself during her time in the course.

“There really was no limit to what I could do as long as I mentally stayed engaged and never quit,” she said.

A 1st Bn., 1st SFG (A), sergeant major and coworker of the captain spoke of his time at Ranger school , “I learned the true value of leading when nothing was in your favor to lead . I learned that it takes everyone to pull together, a team. Ranger school is not an individual event, it is the definition of being a team player and putting the mission first,” he said.

Though each Soldier’s experiences at Ranger school is unique, the standard remains consistent. Meeting this standard provides leadership lessons that can be applied for the rest of a graduate’s life.

“Being Ranger tabbed means I now have the responsibility of building on everything I learned in the course and not just sitting back and becoming complacent,” the captain said. She explained how she is excited to lead from the front and serve as an inspiration to anyone else who wants to take the Ranger journey .

“It has given me a new foundation and I’m excited to grow from it,” she said.

“They say Rangers lead the way and I’m excited to take on that new responsibility!”

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 A U.S. Army captain assigned to 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne) poses in front of the U.S. Army Ranger School welcome sign after becoming the first female in 1st SFG (A) to graduate Ranger school while serving in the unit on August 27, 2021. During the course, students rise above mental and physical exhaustion in order to properly lead Soldiers in small-unit tactics across various climates and terrain. After graduating, the Ranger Qualified are better trained, more resilient, and better prepared to serve and lead Soldiers. (courtesy photo) (This photo has been altered for security purposes by blurring out identification) (Photo Credit: U.S. Army)

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