Rangers get jungle training to help prepare for exercises

Sgt. Marc Turchin

FORT SHERMAN, Panama, (Army News Service, April 10, 1998) -- Soldiers from 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment finished their first week of training consisting of a series of jungle training classes to prepare them for their upcoming field training exercises.

The classes included mines and booby traps, waterborne operations; squad react to contacts, jungle living and land navigation.

"The classes gave the ranger combat effectiveness for him and the unit," said Sgt. 1st Class Kenneth Wolfe, Jungle Operations Training Center instructor at one of the react to contact training sites.

The mines and booby traps class had the rangers learning about what types of mines and traps are found in jungle terrain. They were also shown the correct way of walking through the terrain and how to spot the mines and traps. Following a short class, platoons were given a mission, which included azimuths and amounts of distance each platoon was expected to travel.

The terrain had the platoons moving through thick vegetation, crossing over streams and climbing up and down hills. Some platoons found mines and traps while others bypassed them altogether. Cadre members said the idea was to see if the rangers could maneuver through the terrain properly and react to exploding training traps and mines correctly.

"It pretty much made us aware of what's out there and what to look for," said Staff Sgt. John Donaldson, battalion reenlistment NCO. He said he learned about American made and foreign made traps and mines.

"Foreign countries have different set ups than ours," he said. "Basically, anything in the jungle could be booby trapped."

From booby traps to boats, rangers took classes on just about everything in between. Waterborne operations started with a swim test. Donaldson said this was done to ensure everyone was capable of conducting the training. After the swim test, the rangers learned the correct way of getting out of a parachute while in the water. Each ranger went under water with the parachute attached and was required to unhook himself.

The soldiers then moved from the water to land to practice tying the proper knots needed for this type of training. Rangers stood in square configurations as waterborne instructors first demonstrated the tying procedures then watched as the rangers gave the knot tying a shot. When the knot tying class was finished, rangers moved to preparing their rucksacks for water carriage.

The rucks were wrapped in watertight packages using ponchos. Each ranger was required to swim between 100 and 200 meters with the ruck attached to them. They also had to build poncho rafts with their rucksacks. Rangers swam in two-man teams with two rucksacks. The front man was attached to the rucks with a snap link and pulled the rafts as he swam while the back person pushed the rucks.

The waterborne class also saw the rangers learning to build rope bridges and then cross them. Using six or seven-man squads, rangers put their newly acquired skills to use as they first set up the rope bridges on land to practice the procedure. They next had to do the same across a 25-meter water obstacle. The squads used three lanes to set up their rope bridges.

After accomplishing the task at hand, the rangers conducted a competition to get back to where they started. The stakes had the second place squad doing 25 push-ups and the third place squad knocking out 50. But the rangers weren't through getting wet.

Next was boat operations. They were given a class about how to capsize a zodiac boat. Donaldson said the main reason for capsizing the boat has to do with the jungle environment.

"One of the reasons we'd have to capsize the boat would be due to heavy rains," he said. "We'd have to get the water out of the boat." To capsize the boat, the rangers have to go through a series of commands. "I'd have to say waterborne was the best of all the classes," Donaldson said. "It's been a couple of years since I last trained with the boats," he said. "Plus it gave mea chance to swim around a little bit."

Donaldson described himself as a strong swimmer on the ranger swimming scale -- a less experienced swimmer is a non-swimmer, an average swimmer is called a swimmer and an experienced swimmer is called a strong swimmer.

No matter how well the soldier could swim; the squad-react-to-contact class had the rangers totally submerged in jungle terrain testing how well each squad acted under fire from an enemy. This class also offered the rangers something most said they looked forward to -- their first live-fire in the deployment.

Rangers first moved as squads through the jungle with their weapons loaded with blanks. An opposing force eventually ambushed the squad. Wolfe, who accompanied all squads at his training lane through the movement, said he was watching for good and bad actions. Whether the squad did well or bad, Wolfe discussed all aspects of the mission during the after action review.

After one AAR, Wolfe said there's something special about working with rangers.

"They're at a higher level of training compared to other light Infantry units," he said. "Being that I spent time in the regiment, I know they're whole life is centered around training."

One Soldier said training in the jungle is like training nowhere else. "It makes it tougher to control your element," said Staff Sgt. Richard Clinton, squad leader with Company B, 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment. "You can't see as well and you have to tighten things up and slow everything down."

Although Clinton admitted most of his squad had never operated in the jungle, he said practice makes perfect. "They're getting a lot out of this," he said. "As they do it, they get more and more confident and that's the big thing with this -- building their confidence."

Clinton said his squad did react well on its first time through, but it's an educating experience. "In anything we do, there's going to be learning points," he said. "That's the reason we're out here training."

The training continued at the jungle living class. Here, rangers were introduced to habitats of the jungle. They watched as cadre showed slides at the post theater of animals and plant life the soldiers may run into while training in the jungle. For instance, Donaldson said he was worried about a certain frog that secretes a poisonous liquid out of its glands when it is agitated. "You have to be on your toes all the time," he said. "There's a lot of stuff that can mess you up."

The rangers also walked through the post zoo, located near their barracks. There they saw crocodiles and a variety of monkeys and birds. All call Panama home.

Some of that wildlife may have been seen during the land navigation course. Unlike the courses on Fort Benning, Donaldson said the maps don't show the small terrain features because of the rainy season.

"The rainy season changes the way the terrain looks and that effected us getting to our second point." He said the first point was found pretty easily, but the second one took a while because his squad was basing their direction on pace count and terrain features. "We got disorientated at first, then found a spot on the map where we thought we were and 15 minutes later we found our point."

Donaldson and a number of other soldiers blamed the terrain for their misfortunes. "You're fighting vines constantly," Donaldson said. "Visibility was no more than about 20 meters at best." The soldiers were required to find three of four points in less than three hours.

In the end, the classes are designed to prepare the rangers for their field exercises during the second week of the deployment. But, Clinton said this type of training has other benefits.

"We're out there doing raids, ambushes, movement to contacts, running patrol bases and moving from here to there," he said. "It's good learning for everyone -- especially the younger guys who still need to go to Ranger School."

(Editor's note: Turchin is a writer with the U.S. Army Infantry Center and Fort Benning public affairs office at Fort Benning, Ga.)