Ranger School is “what SEAL teams need as far as leadership is concerned,” Ranger School graduate and former Navy SEAL Jonathan Gilliam told SOFREP. “I learned more about leadership in Ranger School than I did in BUD/S or Officer Candidate School.”
Although Rangers are strongly associated with the Army, many are not aware that the school is also attended by some Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps personnel. For SEALs, JTACs, and Force Recon members, Ranger School not only provides valuable tactical training, but also helps build inter-service trust between Navy, Air Force, and Marine special operations personnel and the Army.
Many confuse Ranger School and the Ranger Regiment, but Ranger School is a 61-day training course that focuses on leadership and small-unit tactics. Split up into three phases, Darby, Mountains, and Florida, Ranger students conduct squad- and platoon-level patrols and are graded by Ranger instructors when they are selected for leadership positions. When Gilliam was in college, he made a timeline—a list of things he wanted to accomplish in life. First and foremost was to become a Navy SEAL, but also on the list was to attend Ranger School. “I had read that it was the ultimate leadership school,” Gilliam said.
After graduating BUD/S, Gilliam was sent to airborne school at Fort Benning, then on to STT (SEAL Tactical Training, now known as SEAL Qualification Training), before being shipped down to Panama as an ensign for three months to do some on-the-job training with a SEAL platoon. When his commanding officer, Pete Van Hooser, mentioned sending him to Ranger School before going in front of the board and hopefully earning his trident, Gilliam readily agreed.
“Having been through SEAL training, the screaming, the yelling, the major minuses [negative spot reports] didn’t phase me,” Gilliam said as he reflected on his experience in Ranger School. “Since I had been through that previously, I was able to learn what the instructors were teaching at a higher rate than other students. It also taught me a lot about how to play with the Army,” meaning he also learned how to work well with Army soldiers through his shared experience with them.
Since Gilliam was a frogman in training, Ranger School didn’t stress him out, however he did mention that, “My feet were destroyed from BUD/S and I had constant issues.” Recalling one humorous incident, Gilliam remembers sleeping naked in the patrol base one night to allow his uniform to dry out. A Ranger instructor caught someone sleeping on guard and made everyone wake up and do pushups. Halfway through the impromptu smoke session, he spotted Gilliam in the front leaning rest position in his birthday suit. “Hey, who the hell is that guy!?” the RI screamed.
“None of the RIs even knew I was in the Navy until they saw my name on a clipboard,” Gilliam laughed.
To read about the key differences between the Ranger Regiment and Navy SEALs, take a look at this previous SOFREP article.