News: Ranger instructors hone mountaineering skills in Alaska
Story by Maj. Joel Anderson
BLACK RAPIDS TRAINING SITE, Alaska — Ranger instructors from the Georgia-based 5th Ranger Training Battalion ventured north in August to hone their mountaineering skills at the Army’s Northern Warfare Training Center here.
The instructors hail from Camp Merrill, Ga., home of the mountain phase of Ranger School.
The NWTC challenged the Rangers with the Basic Mountaineering Course immediately followed by the Assault Climbers’ Course.
With almost 25 percent of the earth’s surface covered by mountainous terrain and the war in Afghanistan, one of the most mountainous spots in the world, continuing knowledge of mountain warfare tactics, techniques, and procedures is more important than ever, according to NWTC instructors.
“I tip my hat to these guys,” NWTC 1st Sgt. Tom Dow said. “BMC or ACC alone are no joke, but then, to do them back-to-back…these guys have lots of heart,” he said.
This iteration of the Assault Climber Course was the first in nearly a decade, according to Dow.
“It’s been a long time coming, but we thought it was high-time [the NWTC] get back to offering the Assault Climber Course,” he said.
5th Ranger Training Battalion R.I.s who completed both BMC and ACC were:
Sgt. 1st Class David Duckett, Kingwood, Texas
Sgt. 1st Class Ashley Page, Conway, S.C.
Sgt. 1st Class Adam York, Rockland, Maine
Staff Sgt. Christopher Beauchamp, St. Augustine, Fla.
Staff Sgt. Joshua Purvis, Centreville, Va.
Staff Sgt. Christopher Watkins, Old Bridge, N.J.
Sgt. Jun Ma, Pacific Grove, Calif.
Graduates of ACC were Staff Sgt.G Rick Penkala of Calumet, Ill., and Sgt. 1st Class William Glander of Pittsfield, Mass.
In addition to sending nine instructors as students, the Ranger Training Battalion commander and command sergeant major also came to tour the NWTC themselves to see first-hand the skills their RIs were being trained on.
Lt. Col. Bob O’Brien and Cmd. Sgt. Maj. Frank James were able to travel to the Black Rapids Training Site and spend a few days watching the training.
They experienced some of the technical instruction, rappelling and flew out over some of the nearby glaciers.
“This is just something we can’t replicate in North Georgia,” O’Brien said, “here in Alaska; the terrain is just so much more technical and challenging for our RIs.”
“We really didn’t know to what extent the NWTC existed as a possibility for training our people,” he said. “Fortunately, I was able to send two of my people, my mountaineering training specialist and a platoon sergeant of one of my mountaineering platoons to NWTC’s Symposium in March and that led to this opportunity.”
“Even more so, the symposium and the opportunity for these guys to come up here this summer have now led to what I’m sure will be a habitual relationship and it is potentially going to result in a BMC (Basic Mountaineering Course) MTT (Mobile Training Team) going offsite from NWTC to Camp Merrill next February,” O’Brien.
“Seeing everything that the NWTC has going for it was very encouraging,” O’Brien said, “since there are some major misconceptions right now around the Army about what this place can offer.
In addition to being able to see up-close what the NWTC was all about, O’Brien and James also briefed prospective Ranger candidates at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson on recent trends in Ranger school.
“Two of the biggest pitfalls right now,” O’Brien said, “are PT (physical training) and land navigation.”
“Percentage-wise, if they can make it through RAP (Ranger Assessment Phase) Week, their likelihood for success increases dramatically,” he said.
“We are currently looking at about a 30 percent failure rate for that phase, but if they successfully negotiate the RAP, their likelihood of graduation goes up to about 85 percent,” O’Brien said.
The RIs said they learned many things they had not previously been exposed to either in quite the same way or quite so extensively, including the use of anchors, raising and lowering systems and rescue techniques.
Several of the RIs also agreed there were many techniques they can apply to training they conduct on Mt. Yonah back in North Georgia.
“NWTC has helped me by giving me more tools to put in my kit bag and help me get to higher level on some things I can teach Ranger students more effectively,” Sgt. 1st Class Ashley Page said.
Staff Sgt. Joshua Purvis added, “I think they [NWTC] did really well teaching us more about how to understand weak points in systems and how to inspect for safety.”
Sgt. Jun Ma, of the HHC 5th Ranger Training Battalion Medical Platoon said he found the casualty evacuation techniques he was taught to be of particular benefit, especially pickoffs and use of SKEDCO litters.
“It was very detailed,” Ma said, “and it was a really challenging course.”