Rangers Return to Basics
Reported by: SSG Brian Thomas
Courtesy of Soldiers Magazine

(Ft. Sherman, Panama) Rangers are considered to be among the finest infantrymen in the world. They're trained to go anywhere, any time -- including the jungles of Panama. Rangers from 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, at Fort Benning, Ga., deployed last spring for the Jungle Warfare Course -- three grueling weeks -- at the U.S. Army's Jungle Operations Training Center in Fort Sherman, Panama.

Their first task was adapting to the environment. "There are specific aspects of the jungle and the heat that rangers have to learn to cope with," said LTC Michael Ferriter, 3rd Bn. commander. "The environment can cause failure if you don't know how to survive in it. Once they can cope, they can get on with fighting and winning," he said.

The first week at JOTC provided the basis for surviving in the jungle -- waterborne training to breach water obstacles, squad live fires and classes on jungle-movement techniques.

Those classes formed the foundation for nine days of intensive situational training exercises. The exercises, highlighted by a platoon live fire, were the key to the rangers' tailor-made training plan.

"In the past, the training here has been oriented to the battalion-level exercise," Ferriter said. "We opted to establish situational exercises for platoons. It allowed us to get a high payoff from great training."

Training is training, but Panama's jungle provided new challenges for the rangers.

"Anywhere you go, battle drills are the same. Here you're adding a different climate," said SSG Richard Clinton, a squad leader from Company B. "It's hot at Benning in the summer, but it's blazing hot here, and you're adding an environment that's thicker and tougher to work in."

It was the first trip into Fort Sherman's steamy, tangled jungle for many of the rangers. For the veterans, the return to the bush put them in advanced leadership positions.

Moving and shooting in the jungle environment brought back the basics of being an infantryman for all the rangers, said one JOTC instructor.

"This will benefit them greatly, because as the regiment has evolved it's gotten away from these movement-to-contact, light-infantry things," said SFC Kenneth Wolfe, of the Jungle Operations Training Brigade. "Any time you get to fire live rounds down range in a movement scenario, it develops the combat effectiveness of the unit and promotes confidence." Getting back to the basics also prepares younger rangers for the future, Clinton said.

"The big thing we get out of this is the old-school ranger patrolling," he said. "We're out there doing raids, ambushes, movement to contact, setting up patrol bases. It's great for preparing the young guys for ranger school."

In Ranger squads, none of the junior soldiers have been to Ranger School. Young Rangers spend time in the 75th's battalions after completing the Ranger Indoctrination Program; they go to Ranger School later.

Typically, the only Ranger-qualified soldiers in each squad are the team and squad leaders. Officers and NCOs in the regiment's line units are Ranger-qualified.

The rotation, considered highly successful by Ranger and JOTC cadre, helps put the battalion at the readiness level it needs.

"It's important we're able to perform as advertised -- the finest special light infantry in the world," Ferriter said. "We can be called on a moment's notice, and there's no time to train up once we're called."

(Colon, Panama) Given two days of rest and recreation after completing the jungle course, most of the Rangers from 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, headed for Panama City's nightlife. One small group, however, found a different calling.

Led by Chaplain (Capt.) Matthew Goff, the battalion chaplain, 46 Rangers armed with goodwill and tools -- instead of the typical Ranger load of M-4 Carbines and Squad Automatic Weapons -- invaded one of Colon's poorest neighborhoods.

Considered Panama's second city, the once-bustling Atlantic port now suffers high unemployment rates and extreme poverty.

Goff brought soldiers into Colon's urban jungle to repair a Salvation Army home for the elderly. The idea for the project came from an after-action review done by 2nd Bn., 75th Ranger Regt. Its soldiers worked on a similar project during a JOTC rotation in November 1997.

"It gives the guys who maybe don't like to go out on the town a way to do something constructive," Goff said. "They can feel good about themselves for helping out poverty-stricken folks in Panama."

The Salvation Army home needed better security for its residents. The existing windows allowed thieves to reach in and steal from those in the home. The Rangers removed the windows and frames and, using decorative brick, created a secure barrier that still allowed ventilation.

They also repaired plumbing, replaced doors, painted the inside and cleaned up the grounds around the home. "It's a very rundown part of town," Goff said. "Some of the buildings just next door are rubble. There are big piles of broken-down buildings all around, and piles of trash. It's a pretty rough neighborhood."

The surrounding neighborhood was an eye-opener for many of the young Rangers, especially those in Panama for the first time.

"I wish I could speak their language, because I think being able to speak with them would minister to them even more than working on their home," said Cpl. Kevin Sharp. "Hopefully this defeats the stereotype of the 'obnoxious Americans.' There are people in America who care and are willing to give their time and effort to help out."

(Ft. Sherman, Panama) For more than 40 years, the cadre at Fort Sherman's jungle school has trained soldiers from the United States and around the world to fight and survive in the jungle.

"Jungle comprises a substantial portion of the earth's land mass -- jungle environments are prominent in South America, Asia and Africa," said Maj. Gregory V. Barrack, executive officer for the Jungle Operations Training Battalion.

In a relatively compact training area, the JOTC provides a range of jungle terrain and vegetation -- tall grasslands, mountains, swamps, blue and brown water, and single- and double-canopy jungle.

With its signature three-week Jungle Warfare Course, JOTC trains 11 Army light infantry, ranger and marine battalions -- more than 7,000 troops per year.

In addition, more than 1,000 soldiers a year are taught to serve as the opposing forces for the rotational battalions. The JOTC also teaches a 10-day aircrew survival course, open to all branches of service, and a four-week engineer jungle warfare course. Foreign students come to the training center for a number of training programs, giving JOTC an international reach.

For U.S. forces, JOTC provides a training area that cannot be replicated by the military's other large training centers. "The jungle is the great equalizer -- a fact not lost on anyone familiar with the environment," Barrack said. "To fight in it, you have to train in it."

The jungle is one of the only environments where U.S. forces cannot bring a vaunted technological edge to bear upon an enemy, Barrack said. Systems such as laser targeting, global positioning, night vision and communications either do not function at all, or function at a much-degraded performance level, he said.

"We need a jungle school in the U.S. armed forces," said MSgt. Joseph Callahan, team sergeant for Team Four, Company A, JOTC. "The time to learn jungle tactics isn't right before they are needed."

By virtue of the Carter-Torrijos Treaty signed in 1977, all U.S. military property will be turned over to Panama in December 1999, including the Panama Canal.

Fort Sherman will close in June. The last rotation at JOTC is scheduled to end March 27, 1999. No alternative site has been selected for a jungle training school at this time.

This article is courtesy of Soldier's Online.
Story and photos by SSG Brian Thomas.