The Darby Queen is one of the toughest obstacle courses in the U.S. Army.
Over nearly a mile of rolling Chattahoochee County terrain on the far eastern reaches of Fort Benning, the course presents 26 obstacles for Ranger School students to navigate.
There is nothing easy about it as they climb over obstacles as tall as three stories and crawl through mud trenches that are covered with barbed wire.
And to make it worse, Ranger instructors litter the course, barking orders and demanding perfection.
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Sunday morning, 263 soldiers tackled the Darby Queen as they prepare to transition into a new phase of Ranger School, a more than 60-day combat leadership course that is the most physically and mentally challenging the Army offers.
In that number were eight female students trying to become the first women Rangers. This is the first Ranger School class that has been open to women and 19 started a week ago. Less than half of that number, out of a class of 399, made it to the second week.
The key figures on the obstacle course were the Ranger instructors. Two students were struggling with instructions when an instructor pulled them aside and said, “You can do it right once or wrong as many times as you want.”
“They are beginning to learn to listen and pay attention when they are physically and mentally exhausted,” said Brig. Gen. James Rainey, chief of the Infantry School.
The Ranger students have all completed a demanding week that included a physical assessment, water skills assessment, land navigation test, and gruelling road march.
Ranger Training Battalion Maj. Steven Robins, the operations officer, said the obstacle course is difficult by design.
“The in-between obstacle stress that we place on them is all geared toward how bad do you want to make it to the next step,” Robins said. “I have been here about six or seven months, and not once have I seen a Ranger quit on this course. As bad as it looks, if you go see the Ranger students when they are done, they feel accomplished.”
But the real work is about to start as the students learn to plan and execute small unit patrols. They will work out of Camp Darby until May 8 when they are told if they have met the standards to move to Camp Merrill in the North Georgia mountains. The course concludes at Camp Rudder near Destin, Fla.
The end of the Darby Queen is a pivotal moment in the course, Robins said.
“As soon as this event is over, that is when all these black-shirted guys (Ranger instructors) turn into teachers instead of yellers,” he said. “This is the last event where they are in their face 100 percent of the time. It turns into a teach-coach-mentor school. They will leave here and will go truly teach tactics.”