true life: i’m a ranger school wife — darby.

We were hoping for a phone call on Thursday night, Day 18, but in true Army fashion, that phone call never came. So on Friday, Day 19, Madeline and I drove over to Camp Rogers at 8:30AM and hoped with all our might that he would walk out the gate at 9AM to meet us for an eight hour pass.

I am happy to report that Phase One is complete, and Andrew got a GO! He made it through the wildernesssssss! You know he made it throooooouuuuggghh…

Regarding the phone call? The Alpha Company Ranger Instructors (RIs) didn’t allow them to use the phones until the morning of pass, and at that point Andrew thought it was too late to reach me, so he was just going to take a cab home. You should have seen the smile on his face when he saw us there waiting for him!

Surprisingly, he looked good! At first when he came out of the gate (at what looks like a concentration camp – barbed wire fences, creepy, old cement walled barracks and malnourished men running around- aka Camp Rogers), I thought he looked too skinny. But I think it was just the combination of the huge duffel on his back, the fact that he was quite dirty and looked pretty exhausted. In reality, he left for Ranger School at 149lbs, and when he weighed himself when we got home he was 151lbs. He looked like he lost all the fat on his body, but that his muscles had actually got bigger. His arms and chest look strong, and his legs look a lot stronger, too. His stomach has no extra skin at all. He said it paid to be smaller in this way, that guys who went in at 200lbs were really struggling after losing 20-30lbs in just three weeks.

During pass, Andrew’s main priority was to eat. I brought breakfast for the car, although he said they had been trying to fatten them up since the previous night and had even given him a hot breakfast. On the car ride home (15 minutes), he ate a bagel with cream cheese, cucumber and tomato, two Krispy Kremes, a banana, an apple, a cupcake, coffee and OJ. When we got home, he ate an egg and some bacon. Throughout the rest of the day, he ate grapes, roasted chicken, half a supreme pizza, Phish Food ice cream, a Snickers, Dove chocolate, iced tea and a mocha frappuccino. He was SO full very quickly, but he kept forcing himself take another bite. He said he didn’t want to have food regret when he went back.

Ranger School Darby Phase

He took a hot shower, had a hot shave, clipped his nails, took some vitamins. I did three huge loads of disgusting laundry.

We went to the PX to restock supplies- more socks, 550 cord, black tape, baby wipes, ziplocks, etc. Standing in the aisles, he really started to get fuzzy. He stared at the socks for a good 30 seconds before I asked him if he was looking for size medium, the ones right in front of him. “Oh, yeah. Medium. Yeah. I need those.” Ruh roh.

He also got his head shaved again. He was falling asleep in the chair. I was worried the woman was going to buzz his ear off, the way his head was lolling around. Poor guy.

Back at home, he really started fading. The sheer excitement of getting to come home was not enough to sustain him anymore. He tried to give Madeline a bottle on the couch, but fell asleep almost instantly. The bottle dropped out of her mouth, and she started crying. He felt so bad about it, but it was also really hard for him to process what had happened. So I went and sat with them and held the bottle, and he fell asleep again, mid-sentence. But, per his request, he only slept for about an hour the whole time he was home.

He spent most of our time together telling me about the school and how he had faired.

He really had a great attitude about the whole thing. After this first phase, his squad had peered out four guys, but he feels very confident with the remaining guys. A lot of them are in the Ranger Battalion, so they are trying really hard to earn their tab. He gets along with all of them, and they balance out each others’ strengths and weaknesses. He felt great about getting ranked #2 in his squad, since he had really been trying to be a valuable member of the squad and help everyone get their go.

Andy said that 90% of the time, Ranger School isn’t that bad. You apparently do a lot of sitting around waiting, and so he said they talk a lot (about food and home) and laugh a lot. The hard part is that you never know if an RI is going to come up and move you out- it could be three minutes, it could be three hours. So you don’t know if you have time to go to the bathroom or take your boots off or brush your teeth. But all of that is intentional, to keep you a little stressed, unsure and on your toes. Getting smoked sucks, but it’s just part of it. The hardest part for him is the hunger. It’s one thing to know you’re going to be hungry and another to experience starvation.  He was raving about MREs being SO good. Every day, he looks forward to his two MREs. Initially, they were trading each other for flavors, but by the end they were trading for calories. They are ALL his favorite (except tuna), and he can finish one in like three minutes. I told him that three weeks ago he would have laughed hearing himself say that. He looked at me seriously, like he doubted that could be true. Ranger School has already changed him.

Alpha Company seemed to get a lot less food and sleep than any of the other companies. He scoffed as he told me he had watched other companies get “a lunch MRE!” HA! And in the last 72 hours, he had gotten less than two hours of sleep. One hour the first night, zero the next and just 45 minutes the night before he came home. He said it was extremely rare to get more than an hour or two a night, if that. And that it was always interrupted by a 15 minute guard shift, that brought you out of your sack and back into uniform. Such a hassle.

In regards to being exhausted, he said during the day he mostly feels really good, when the sun is out. But in the night it becomes almost impossible to stay awake. He has hallucinated. And he said very often, they’ll be huddled in a circle getting a brief and someone will just face-plant (no hands out), because they fell asleep. It hasn’t happened to him, but he has fallen asleep on his feet. It’s just that when he starts to fall, it wakes him up. He said the younger guys have a MUCH harder time forcing themselves to stay awake, and that people are constantly droning.

It’s not uncommon to be out on a night patrol and totally lose track of time. One time, they had been out moving for what felt like 15 minutes. He wondered why they were stopping and looked down at his watch. It had been three hours. He was shocked. He barely had any recollection of what they had been doing that whole time. The time was just gone. In a way, he said, it was good. It makes the days go more quickly.

He said he’ll never forget the first time he watched someone fall asleep mid-sentence. He was having a conversation with a guy, the guy was saying something to him and, then, out of nowhere, the guy’s eyes rolled back in his head while he was talking, and his knees buckled. He caught himself before he fell, opened his eyes and finished the sentence. He didn’t even know it had happened. It was the weirdest thing he’s ever seen.

His body seems to be holding up well. He even went to the medic (“LTs won’t go because they’re scared they’ll get in trouble, but I know better than that now. One for sick call, please!”). He saw the medic for sores on his hips from the ruck, because all the stuff they issue you doesn’t fit the way you want it to and nothing is packed right. Plus, in addition to carrying 60lbs, on the RAP week ruck march, you had 15-20lbs of water on you. That’s when he really got cut up. (He passed land nav the first time, but, for those that didn’t, they had to redo on the third day and ruck that night. He said those guys had to wear a different color light on their ruck, because they were high risk for heat casualty. He thinks that only 2-3 guys who failed land nav and re-did it the second time actually ended up making it through RAP. Ugh! Sounds like torture!) He said a lot of guys had poison ivy, but that he had been wearing gloves, especially at night, and so far he hasn’t gotten it. He had a couple of blisters on his knee, because you spend a lot of time “taking a knee.” (He’s glad he brought his knee pads!) The medic told him that when they pop he’d be at risk for cellulitis, so he’s trying to be really careful about that. Finally, his feet are doing great, because of his Fox River socks. When he came home, he threw all ten pair of standard issue socks he had brought in the garbage. “I can never wear those again. I didn’t know what I was missing.”

Andy got assigned to lead the first patrol, because he was the highest ranking in his squad. Apparently the first patrol has a 90 or 95% fail rate. He was really concerned about it. But he ended up with a GO! And he passed his second patrol, also!

Finally, Andrew talked about this next phase- mountains. He was a little worried about it being the most physically demanding of the phases- up and down mountains with a lot more weight on your back. But all in all, he felt good about going up there, because he didn’t feel like an individual anymore; he was going as part of a team. His squad is all going to work together and get their gos. If nothing else, he’s looking forward to getting out of Darby and maybe even getting some of those famous blueberry pancakes at Camp Merrill…

The eight hour pass went by in the blink of an eye. Before we knew it, he was packing everything back up into the duffel. He was back inside camp by 4:45PM, for a 5PM formation

So there that was. Darby Phase has come and gone. I’m so happy and proud that Andrew got through this first phase in one shot. Here’s to a super quick six weeks!

A few things to note about Phase One:

  • Andrew was so worried about his patches and what he needed to show up with. They only end up wearing their name tape and “US Army” tape.
  • Make sure to feed your Ranger right before he reports, even if he isn’t hungry. Andrew didn’t get a dinner MRE that first night.
  • We said our more formal goodbyes at home, so that when I dropped Andrew off I didn’t fall apart. I was smiling and even managed to tell him to have fun!
    • He arrived at 10:45AM during the 10AM-1PM window to report. There were already quite a few people there.
  • The first week is the worst week. So get the ugly cries out of the way then, because by week two you’ll be finding your groove and by week three you’re hitting your stride (and counting down the days until you hear from him)!
    • The first three days were the most difficult for me. I spent them making crying phone calls to my family and friends. They built me up so much and reminded me that if we could get through a deployment, surely we could get through this. Thanks guys! Love you!

Mail

  • Andrew received mail two times during Darby – on Day 12 (he got 6 of my letters) and on Day 19, right before being released for pass (he got some more of my letters, but he doesn’t think all; I sent 13 total).
  • I received mail three times during Darby – on Day 9 (he gave it to the chaplain Sunday, it was postmarked Monday, I got it Tuesday; quick turnaround, since we live on Fort Benning), Day 10 (this was actually his first letter that he sent out right after RAP in the regular mail; it took longer to get to me than his letters through the chaplain) and Day 16 (again, he gave it to the chaplain Sunday, it was postmarked Monday, I got it Tuesday)
  • I had put gum (five pieces) into a few of my envelopes, but the Alpha Company RIs made him open his mail in front of them and they confiscated the gum. He didn’t get into trouble, he just wasn’t allowed it. Other Rangers have been allowed to keep this. So I still say it’s worth a shot.

Pass

Daddy and Maddie after Darby Phase of Ranger School

  • Stock your fridge with all of his favorites before he comes home. Get everything he requests, even though you know he won’t be able to eat it all. Hunger is a horrible thing.
  • Tell him before he leaves for Ranger School to mail you a list of things he needs to restock during the phase, that way you can limit your time at the stores.
  • Put Neosporin on all open cuts.
  • Restock his gum up to 70 pieces.
  • Even if he can’t sleep while he’s home, he’ll still have 4 hours the next day on the bus ride to Camp Merrill to get some rest.

Do you have any tips for Darby?

21days down, 40 days to go…

Ranger_Tab

true life: i’m a ranger school wife — links i like.

Here is a complete list of Ranger School links I like and check often, if not daily:

  • Ranger School Student Information Page
    • From this link, if you click onto the Student Information Page, you’ll find information on the three phases (Darby, Mountains, Swamps), student mail and graduation. You can also find the Ranger School Schedule (or Class Dates) for each class. This is the official source for all things Ranger School.
  • Ranger School Powerpoint
    • Interesting stats, but, more importantly, the calendar for each phase.
Social Media: 
  • Ranger School Wives 2012
    • A private Facebook Group for the 2012 RSWs (and fiances and girlfriends). If your year doesn’t have one of these, you should start one!
  • “Ranger School”
    • A search on Twitter to see who’s talking about Ranger School.
Blogs:
    • Pearls for Tags — Women of Army Men
      • A group of women, who, willingly or unwillingly, have come to be a part of this structured chaos known as the United States Army. We are the ladies behind our men in uniform — and damned proud of it. This blog was started by significant others of the final Ranger School class of 2012
    • The Coveted Black and Gold 
      • I read this journal from a soldier in Ranger School in 2006 (who has since been killed in action) every day to get a good idea of what my ranger is going through. He chronicles in great detail the day to day of life in Ranger School. It is a really great resource.
      • Communication During Ranger School: A Recap 
        • I refer to this blog post from a RSW (Ranger School Wife), summer of 2011, if I have questions about communication during Ranger School. She is there to answer questions to this day!
      • Ranger School 
        • I check back with this detailed blog post for another story of life as a RSW from fall of 2011.
      Weather:
      Where on the web are you going for Ranger School info?

      Ranger tab

      true life: i’m a ranger school wife — hey, mr. postman.

      “Hey, Mr. Postman.” If you’re like me, you’ll be saying this a lot, because since “Day 1,” I’ve sent a letter to Andrew every day. You and the postman will probably become buddies. Hey, maybe he’ll even be your battle buddy!?! Just kidding…

      My mailman must think I’m a lunatic, sending so much mail. But I don’t mind; I embrace the crazy. I write  because it helps me feel connected to my ranger. I feel like I’m telling him the day’s stories over dinner. It makes me feel like he is a part of parenting our daughter during this time, of the decisions I’m making and of our daily life. It makes me feel like even though he’s not with me, he’s still my partner. I think it helps Andrew, too. Besides being a morale booster, I think he feels connected to us through the mail I send him; he’s not going to have to play catch up when he comes home. I also think he likes my mail because it’s not just letters I’m sending…it’s good stuff! Read on…

      Here are a few things I’ve learned about sending mail to your ranger:
      • Most importantly, if you ask me, KISS: keep it simple, silly. Don’t send your ranger a hot pink envelope, covered in stickers, drenched in your perfume and sealed with a lipstick kiss. You really don’t want to draw attention to him- positive or negative. Anything that makes him a target for ranger games is a no-go, and this includes your mail. Wouldn’t you feel awful if he had to do 100+ push-ups because of you (even though you had great intentions)? So, send your mail in a plain old envelope, with plain old stamps and plain old return address labels. Save the other stuff for inside!!
      • Find out his company, platoon, squad and roster number. You can send mail to him without any of this (since you’ll already know his class number). But addressing it with this information should make it easier to get it to your ranger. Andrew sent me his info in his first letter.
      Letter to Ranger School
      • Use the same stationary for all of your letters. It makes letters from you easy to spot (and  it makes for a great keepsake at the end of the course).
      • Keep a clipboard with your stationary and pen with you all the time. That way, when you have a minute or think of a funny story, or need to vent, it’s right there for you. Writing is much less of a chore when it’s just a part of daily life. I mostly write sitting on the couch while the baby sleeps. Sometimes I write standing at the kitchen counter. Other time’s I write at the desk. Make it easy on yourself!
      • I always start letters the same way: the day, date and day of the course in the top right corner; the page number in the top left (they tend to go on and on…); and then Dear Andrew… Consistency is a good thing, and it helps keep letters to your ranger in order (since he may not receive them that way).
      • Write from your heart. It can be as boring as the events of the day or as romantic as a poem. Just write what you feel. I know a lot of people say to keep your letters upbeat and positive; you don’t want to bring your ranger down. But for me, sometimes I share the bad times anyway. I like to be honest, and I want to keep him in the loop. I don’t go crazy or over exaggerate. I just get it down on paper and make sure he knows that we’re okay now, we’ll be fine and that the bad part is over. In some ways, I think it’s a good reminder to him that we are strong enough to keep soldiering on, even while he’s away. He doesn’t worry about us, because he knows we’ve got it together.
      • Write about the weather. Cliche? Yes. Essential? Yes. If you can give your ranger a heads up on the forecast that week, it could make all the difference when they go out on their patrols! At the very least, they know what to expect. So make like Al Roker, and drop it like it’s hot.
      • Write about what he likes. Andrew likes sports, so I’ve been sending him updates on his fantasy football team (which I am also managing for him while he’s gone). I print out stats, match-ups and scores. Hopefully it’s a good distraction for him. If it’s politics your guy is into, send him election updates. The lastest iPhone release for the tech geek. Whatever he’s into, keep him in the loop!
      • Send gum. Pull out a few sticks of gum and tape them to the inside of your envelope, lying flat. From what I understand, gum is like currency, and he can barter with it.
        Gum in letter to Ranger School

      • Andrew took tons of mint gum with him when he left, thinking it would keep him fresh and awake. But in his second letter, he mentioned that he wished he had brought fruity gum (Extra). I think he must be craving food that badly. So I ran right out and started sending watermelon, strawberry shortcake and tropical gum to him. I send five sticks of gum in almost every letter I mail out.
      • UPDATE (from Mountains): In Darby Phase, Andy had to open all of his mail in front of the RIs, and they ended up taking the gum away from him. It didn’t get him in trouble, they just took it. He said guys in other companies were able to keep it, though. So I think it was different for everyone. For this phase, with his permission, I taped two sticks of gum to the inside of the actual letters. He said it’s been getting through no problem! I don’t know if it’s the RIs or my stealthiness. Either way, for what it’s worth, what he couldn’t have in Darby, he can in the mountains…
        • Send pictures. I send pictures of the baby to Andrew every other day or so. I print two wallet size photos. Then I use double sided tape and stick them back to back. I cut them out.  And finally, I laminate them with his laminating paper (although packing tape would work, too). Then I pop these water-resistant reminders of home into a letter.

        Pictures in letter to Ranger School

        • Scan or copy all the pages of your letters before you mail them out. That way if your pages get wet or wrecked out in the field, you still have backups at home to look back on in years to come.
        • Number your envelopes on the outside. I put the number on the back top right corner. That way, he knows if he’s receiving my mail chronologically or if he needs to shuffle them around when he gets them.
        • Send your final piece of mail on the Monday before the end of each phase. This is to make sure that your ranger receives everything you send him. I’m pretty sure they don’t forward anything (although rumors say they might)…
        • Send care packages. You can send two care packages. One at the end of Mountains, that they get less than an hour to eat, and one at the end of Swamps, that they receive and can eat on the bus back to Fort Benning. Gatorade, food, candy, magazines. Send it all. If they aren’t allowed something (like caffeine or protein bars), it will be taken away by the Ranger Instructors. And anything they don’t finish in time will just be tossed. Make sure to send your packages with enough time to get there. As one ranger put it, “It is a serious morale killer if you’re the only one without a box.” Although guys will share, you don’t want your ranger to be that guy.
        And here are a few things I’ve learned about getting mail from your ranger:
        • Pre-address and stamp envelopes, and pack them with your ranger. That way he just has to write, seal it and mail it. The easier you make it for him, the more likely you’ll receive mail from him.
        • Ask your ranger to write whenever he has a spare moment. No pressure, obviously, but they do a lot of waiting around in lines. So if it crosses his sleep-deprived mind, maybe he could take a minute to jot down even just a few sentences.
          • The first letter I got from Andrew was seven pages of a pocket notebook paper. He had written a paragraph per day (sometimes a few times a day) about what was going on at the time. In front of each paragraph, he notated the date and time. This was so helpful, because I could look back at the schedule and see the corresponding events he was writing about. After a few days, he put it all the pages in to one envelope and mailed it out.out to me in one letter.
        • Make sure he has a letter ready to send out when he sees the chaplain.
          • Andrew wrote that he didn’t think he’d be able to send out another letter after his first one, because they were going out to the field. But he found out, probably from seasoned rangers, that the chaplain takes mail and sends it out for them (super promptly)! Andrew saw the chaplain on Saturday, the surprise letter was postmarked Monday and I received it on Tuesday (quick- because I live on post)! That letter came even faster than the first one he sent out, which I received the next day.
        • Take requests. If your ranger needs you to pick up supplies for him for the 8-hour pass or if he’s hoping for certain foods for his package, ask him to write it in a letter to you during the phase. That way you can take care of things at home and save time!
        What tips do you have about Ranger School Mail?