I know several guys who have earned the Ranger Tab. Some are my neighbors, some are good friends, and some I just know though living in this amazing place we call Columbus.
Rangers carry themselves in a certain way. The more you are around them, the more you notice it. Most of them I know are the quiet types. They study situations carefully. They usually think before they act or speak. When they commit to something, get the hell out of the way, because they commit in full. They look at life's tasks, whether it be growing hot pepper plants or going to graduate school, as missions. And the only reason to accept a mission is to accomplish it.
If you are around them much at all, you know they are a different breed of cat. You couldn't have a better friend -- or a worse enemy.
For the past three months, I have had the opportunity to observe Ranger School as a reporter. The U.S. Army has extended three invitations to watch the training because for the first time in the more than 60 year history of Ranger School, women are in the class. It is physically and mentally taxing, and we are not seeing the hard part -- the patrols.
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The journey has gone through Fort Benning twice, first at Camp Rogers and then to Camp Darby. Last week, it was the mountains of north Georgia and Camp Merrill.
Here are a few civilian observations:
Some of the Ranger instructors are deadly funny dudes. Last week, one of the instructors was lecturing the class about an upcoming road trip into the Chattahoochee National Forest. "You will see bears, you will see snakes, and you will see hippies," the instructor said as about 50 students sat in the bleachers and listened. "And you don't approach any of them."
You could tell which students were wide awake because they laughed.
What is happening with the first women in Ranger School is historic. That is obvious. But it is also not lost on those involved in the process. They understand what they are a party to as the three remaining women try to earn the tab.
Ranger School is about leadership, and leadership starts with the leaders of the school -- Col. David Fivecoat, the commander, and Command Sgt. Maj. Curtis Arnold. You don't get where they are in the Army without being a pretty smart soldier.
These people assigned to the Airborne and Ranger Training Brigade are professionals in the same way accountants, lawyers, doctors and journalists are professionals. They are just highly trained, highly skilled professional soldiers.
If I had known I was going to Ranger School, I would have gotten in better shape. You need a certain level of fitness just to watch it. I am not kidding. This training is done in remote places and you better be ready to walk a little bit to get there.
Early in the reporting of this story, I met Dennis Smith, a retired command sergeant major who was assigned to the Airborne and Ranger Training Brigade before retiring in 2012.
Like almost every Ranger I have spoken to, Smith said Ranger School was the most difficult thing he had ever done.
"Why didn't you quit?" I asked him.
"I quit every day," he said. "I just didn't have the guts to tell anybody."
Three months into this, I now better understand that statement.
Chuck Williams, senior reporter, firstname.lastname@example.org.