So Matthew left for Ranger School yesterday and to be honest….I am a mess. I’ve cried so much the last few days that I think I’ve literally run out of tears. As much as we talked about it and I mentally prepared for this day to come, it’s still surreal that it’s all happening and that we will be spending the next 2 to 4 months in silence. But times like these continue to test the foundations of our relationship and ultimately our faith to see how our response is rooted in Christ.
Naturally, to deal with my copious amount of feelings, I have decided to channel them into a blog post about Matthew leaving for Ranger School. Bear with me…there are a lot of feelings to be felt! To make it easier for those reading, I’ve broken up this post into two parts: a general Ranger School outline and my personal thoughts/reflection leading up to this point. Both, I feel, are important pieces of this chapter of life God has given to us and I hope that both can be give you clarity on what it’s like to be an army relationship.
A Ranger School Breakdown
Ranger School is approximately a 2 month course where soldiers are pushed pass their limits and then some. Any soldier can get a slot at Ranger School but it’s pretty difficult unless you’re a part of the Ranger Battalion (basically means you are or are going to become a Ranger) or you’re in a heavy combat arms branch, like the Infantry. For Matthew, being an infantry officer with no Ranger tab pretty much means you get zero respect and we can’t have that now can we? So he’s gotta brave through this treacherous course and prove that he’s got what it takes to keep up with the toughest of the tough.
Ranger School is essentially divided up into 3 phases: Benning, Mountain, and Florida (Swamp). During Benning Phase, the first week is called RAP week (Ranger Assessment Phase) and it is where 30% of people fail. Why is RAP week so hard? Very simple – they try hard to smoke you out. Within these short 5 days, soldiers are expected to complete the following: a RPFT (Ranger Physical Fitness Test) consisting of push ups, sit ups, and a 5 mile run; a 5 hour land navigation course, the Malvesti course (just imagine the hardest obstacle course conceivable); a 12 mile ruck; and unending missions practice. And if that’s not enough, they only get 3-4 hours of sleep a night with just enough food to keep them functioning. If you fail RAP week, you get kicked out and have to wait until there’s an opening in the next class of soldiers going to Ranger School.
Once you’ve passed RAP week, you only have to repeat each individual phase if you don’t pass. This is called “recycling”. You can only recycle each phase twice before you get kicked out of Ranger School. This is why it can take up to 6 months to pass Ranger School – very few people make it through Ranger School in one-go because most repeat or recycle each phase at least once. Some other ways you can leave Ranger School is for medical reasons or if you get peered out (or voted out by your fellow soldiers).
The nice thing (army girlfriends and families, you will be overjoyed to know this) is that they actually have an 8 hour pass in between each phase (if they pass) where they are able to leave the training grounds if someone picks them up and takes the home. While this means a sweet reunion for loved ones, for our soldiers it means getting laundry done, supplies replenished, and as much sleep as possible on an actual bed. But it’s definitely better than nothing and offers a little bit of hope to get you through to the end. Soldiers can also receive mail & care packages throughout Ranger School, but they don’t always get them until the very end and it’s pretty hard for them to write back. BUT you should absolutely write to them, encouraging them to push through and reminding them of how much they are loved. You have no idea how much a simple letter can mean.
[If you would like to send Matthew mail or a care package during Ranger School, please reach out to me and I will get you his mailing address.]
As you can tell, Ranger School is pretty hard core. The one piece of advice Matthew got over and over from soldiers who have already been through the course is to bulk up as much as possible before you go because apparently, guys can lose up to 30 pounds during their time there. It ain’t pretty. This isn’t completely accurate anymore but if you wanna see a small glimpse of Ranger School, check out this clip from the show, Surviving the Cut. You can find the full episode here.
Oh and I forgot to mention – Ranger School only has a 48% graduation rate which you better believe Matthew will be a part of. Rangers Lead the Way!
The Girlfriend’s Perspective
Before Matthew and I even started dating, I knew that our relationship would not be an easy one and that difficult seasons like this would be inevitable. Yet I made the decision that this fine fellow was one worth taking the risk, trusting in the fact that our sovereign God knew what he was doing. There were times when we would sit down to talk about the reality of what’s to come and I would freak out because seriously – what girl wants to be told that their boyfriend and potential husband will have to spend months at a time away, could very possibly be absent at milestone events in your relationship, and might go to war but not come back? No girl, that’s who! But a wise sister in the faith reminded me that God gives us sufficient strength for the day and when the time comes, he will give us sufficient strength to overcome whatever He gives to us. And so over the past year or so as we prepared for what was ahead, God taught me how to continually cast my burdens on him, to give my fears over to him daily, and to trust in his sovereign plan for me and for my relationship with Matthew. Now, I need to remember that more than ever.
As the day drew closer, the reality of what we are about to endure through started to get the best of me and it became nearly impossible for me to hide how I was feeling to Matthew. It was like a waterworks show every night for the past week -_- I can’t even imagine what Matthew must be going through as he prepares to leave for Ranger School but in our last conversation before he left, he said to me, “We’re going to be ok. We’re gonna make it through this together. Remember the joy you have in Christ who will never leave your side.” SERIOUSLY? He’s comforting me and reminding me to persevere and to cling to the truth as he is about to leave for possibly the hardest course of his life. I am a lucky lady to have such a loving lad.
But he’s completely right. The way my response to this difficult time differs from others is a huge testimony to how as a Christian, my hope is found in Christ. To remember that there is a great joy to be had in the face of struggle because Christ is greater than these passing days and his unwavering love compels me to seek out a greater purpose through it all. Yes, this I know. And this, I hope one day very soon I will be able to share with you that are truths I can personally attest to. But in this present moment, I am quite frankly having a very hard time. Please pray for me to know with my heart and not just with my mind the hope that I have in my sweet savior Jesus who always provides a joy unmatched by anything on earth.
The hardest part, I think, of being an army girlfriend is the complete uncertainty of what to expect. Sure, ultimately everyone is uncertain of how their relationship will play out in the future and to a certain extent, we can only plan so much. But in an army [and really, any military] relationship, you have so little control over what or when things will happen that it gets hard to plan even practical decisions in a relationship. During IBOLC, we didn’t know if Matthew would have to go to Ranger School right away or if he would have a break to come back and rest. As we prepared for Ranger School, we had to plan with no idea if he would actually pass each phase or how many times he may have to recycle. Even now as I am mentally trying to prepare, I have no idea if I have to wait patiently for 2…3…4 months…or longer until he finishes. And after that, we don’t know how many speciality training schools he will be placed in before he goes to his station. I literally don’t have any answer for anything but as mind-numbingly frustrating it is, I know that this is exactly how God is answering my prayer to trust him more. To entrust him with all that I have and to not rely on my own strength or plans. To live one day at a time, not worrying about tomorrow but being diligent with what God has given to me today. The pruning hurts, but the fruit will hopefully be much greater.
Now the countdown begins. Only 68 more days until I can see my best friend again. But for now, I remember and am thankful for the happier times we’ve had and I look forward to a joyful reunion ahead.
And if anyone wants to be a friend and eat away all my feelings with me, holla.
Over and Out,