The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

Rangers Lead the Way

Posted on | December 6, 2015 | 32 Comments

Bob with his girlfriend Johanna, after his graduation Friday.

“Acknowledging the fact that a ranger is a more elite soldier, who arrives at the cutting edge of battle by land, sea, or air, I accept the fact that as a ranger, my country expects me to move further, faster, and fight harder than any other soldier. . . .”
The Ranger Creed

Friday morning was cold, and our family arrived at Hurley Hill in three cars. My wife and I had Kennedy and Reagan with us. Emerson rode with Bob’s girlfriend Johanna. Jim and Jeff had ridden down with Matt, a boyhood friend of Bob and Jim’s. We had more than an hour to wait before the graduation ceremony for Ranger school Class 1-16 began.

Hurley Hill is named in honor of Sergeant-Major Pat Hurley, who was killed during Operation Desert Storm. The hill overlooks Victory Pond, where graduation ceremonies are held for Ranger School, “an intense 61-day combat leadership course oriented toward small-unit tactics”:

It has been called the “toughest combat course in the world” and “is the most physically and mentally demanding leadership school the Army has to offer.”

Graduation ceremonies feature a “Rangers in Action” demonstration — rappeling, helicopters, explosions, hand-to-hand combat — that is very impressive. The demands of Ranger School are extreme. Our son Bob was among 90 graduates in a class that had begun with 350 men, and the attrition rate of more than 70 percent came this close to stopping Bob. He made it through Camp Darby with flying colors, but had to “recycle” Mountain Phase because of negative “peer reviews.” This news caused much stress and prayer for us, especially for my wife.

Mrs. McCain with Bob and his twin brother Jim
(“photobombed” by 16-year-old brother Jeff).

Being an Army mom is a tough job under any circumstance, but when your son is going through Ranger School, he is incommunicado — no cellphones, no Facebook — and he only gets a few minutes to make a call from a pay phone after completing each phase. You can write him letters and he can write back, but this is a poor substitute for talking to him. Even if you’re not the “helicopter parenting” type, there is a frustrating sense of helplessness as a parent, knowing your son is going through such an ordeal and that all you can do is wait and pray and hope for the best.

Bob with his older sister Kennedy.

Mental toughness is essential to being an Army Ranger. The physical requirements are certainly demanding — 49 push-ups in two minutes, 59 sit-ups in two minutes, 5-mile run in 40 minutes, etc. — but the real test is psychological. The old saying by Vince Lombardi, “A winner never quits and a quitter never wins,” aptly expresses the situation of a Ranger School trainee. He is constantly pushed to the limits of his endurance while being required to perform tasks that require both physical strength and mental concentration, yelled at by Ranger sergeants who don’t want any quitters to make it through. The instructors all wear that Ranger tab, signifying their membership in an elite combat brotherhood, and quitters are not eligible for membership. About 40 percent of those who begin Ranger School are weeded out in Ranger Assessment Phase, a/k/a “RAP Week” at Camp Rogers, which finishes with a “ruck march” in which soldiers must march 12 miles with 65 pounds of gear in three hours.

When my children were young, I’d often take them on hikes in the woods. When the little ones would begin to whine about being tired, I’d repeat what has become a sort of family slogan, “There is no crying on the Bataan Death March.” Overcoming hardship is a learned skill, and a child will not learn it unless he is taught that he can do it.

“Yes, it’s two miles to the top of the mountain and I know you’re tired, but you can do it. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other. You can make it. Stop whining.” Once you reach the top of the mountain — “Yea! We made it!” — the child has a sense of accomplishment, and has learned something about himself, namely that his feelings of being tired can be ignored, and that exhaustion and discouragement cannot stop him if he makes up his mind to overcome it.

“The president of Oklahoma Wesleyan blames the current campus tantrums on students who are taught to be ‘self-absorbed and narcissistic.’ He’s on to something, according to Jean Twenge, who has reported an increase in narcissism among young people. Narcissists have inflated conceptions of themselves and feel entitled to special privileges, while at the same time they’re quite brittle — if anyone questions their wonderfulness, they quickly take offense and turn extremely aggressive.”
John Tierney at Instapundit

Excuse me if I feel no pity for students at Yale University (annual tuition $47,600) who expect us to believe they are victims of society because somebody said something that offended them. If such cowardly and immature bullies are the future leaders of America, as these petulant Ivy League brats imagine themselves to be, then our nation is hopelessly doomed. Does anyone — anyone — believe a nation can prosper if it accepts as “leaders” such overprivileged monsters as Jerelyn “Who the F**k Hired You?” Luther? America’s most prestigious universities have become playpens that indulge the tantrums of overgrown toddlers.

The people who run Ivy League universities have no sense of patriotic duty, or else they would not cultivate a climate where spoiled children like Jerelyn Luther are permitted to scream obscenities at the faculty. Indeed, I suspect that the faculty of Yale are all Marxist subversives who hate America as much as Jerelyn Luther hates America, because if there was even one patriot on the Yale faculty, he would have resigned in protest and publicly denounced Yale President Peter Salovey as a gutless fool for his abject surrender to the student mob. “We failed you” — yes, Dr. Salovey, you failed them by not expelling them all, thus to teach them a lesson the impudent scum obviously need to learn.

But I digress . . .

Bob with his brothers and his friend Matt.

The real test for Bob was being “recycled” in Mountain Phase, conducted at Camp Merrill near Dahlonega, Georgia. Having succeeded in getting past the initial ordeal of the Benning Phase at Camp Rogers and Camp Darby, he was confronted with the unaccustomed experience of failure. Naturally, he felt that this was not his fault, and that the negative “peer reviews” were unfair. Here was a valuable lesson: It doesn’t matter what’s “fair.”

Life is often unfair. People wrongly suffer harm through no fault of their own, and if we allow ourselves to sulk over the harms we’ve suffered, we will never accomplish anything useful in life. Some people go through life reacting to every failure by saying, “It’s not my fault,” and blaming others for their problems. We call these people losers or, if they convert their self-pity to political ideology, we call them “activists.” Life is unfair, says the loser, and this unfairness is social injustice, and therefore we must rearrange the world to make life better for the losers. These social justice schemes never yield the “fairness” they promise, and when they fail, the ideologues who advocated these policies then blame their enemies for their failure. When feminism fails to achieve its goals, feminists always blame the patriarchy, and anyone who wants to go through life like that — lashing out at scapegoats, blaming their failures on others — is a loser.

A truly radical thought: Maybe life is fair.

Maybe the hardship you suffer is for your own good. Maybe there is a lesson to be learned from a situation that seems to you manifestly unfair. Maybe your failure is not 100% your fault, but if it is only 1% your fault, you should forget about the other 99% and concentrate on whatever part of the problem you can change. If you can meet the challenge and survive, your triumph over adversity will make you stronger. And this was what Bob faced when he had to “recycle” Camp Merrill. Keep in mind what a Ranger candidate must endure:

Military folk wisdom has it that Ranger School’s physical toll is like years of natural aging; high levels of fight-or-flight stress hormones (epinephrine, norepinephrine, cortisol), along with standard sleep deprivation and continual physical strain, inhibit full physical and mental recovery throughout the course.
Common maladies during the course include weight loss, dehydration, trench foot, heatstroke, frostbite, chilblains, fractures, tissue tears (ligaments, tendons, muscles), swollen hands, feet, knees, nerve damage, loss of limb sensitivity, cellulitis, contact dermatitis, cuts, and insect, spider, bee, and wildlife bites.

By the time he finished Mountain Phase the first time, Bob weighed 20 pounds less than he did before beginning Ranger School. He was physically exhausted from sleep deprivation and constant training and, in this depleted condition, now had to cope with the psychological stress of going through Camp Merrill again. Never have I been so worried about his morale. When you are accustomed to winning — when success is a habit — defeat and failure are not something you expect to encounter. It’s kind of like what Alabama had to deal with when they lost to Ole Miss. Here you are, the highly-rated team in pursuit of a championship, and you find yourself unexpectedly beaten. If you are of a philosophical inclination, you may perceive you have paid the price for hubris, and that the injury to your pride was in some sense deserved. Bob failing a course because of “peer reviews” was like Alabama giving up 43 points to Ole Miss.

Somehow, Alabama recovered from that defeat to win the SEC Championship, and Bob recovered from being recycled at Camp Merrill to complete Ranger School and earn that coveted tab. Roll Tide!

Pinning the tab on Bob’s uniform at graduation.

So our prayers have been answered, and we are now on our way back home. Bob will have a long leave before his next assignment. He’s eating like a horse and sleeping like a log, recovering from his strenuous ordeal. We went out to eat Friday and he ate a whole pizza, then ate everything the rest of us had left over.

Clockwise from lower left: Reagan, Kennedy,
Emerson, Jim, Matt, Johanna, Bob, Jefferson, me.

Thanks to all the readers who responded to my appeal Thursday by contributing to the Shoe Leather Fund to pay for our trip to Georgia. Our family is grateful for your support.



32 Responses to “Rangers Lead the Way”

  1. Evi L. Bloggerlady
    December 6th, 2015 @ 9:49 am

    Congratulations. A great addition to our Rangers.

    Now we need a CIC worthy to lead them.

  2. Politically Incorrect Conserva
    December 6th, 2015 @ 10:34 am

    Congrats on the graduation. Oh, and Roll Tide!

  3. Prime Director
    December 6th, 2015 @ 10:36 am

    God Bless you and your clan.

    God Bless America.

    Death to the enemies of the United States.

    Aho and Amen

  4. RS
    December 6th, 2015 @ 12:39 pm

    I’m not sure it’s possible to express more paternal pride in a single blog post. Congrats to him and to you and your wife for the way you reared him.

  5. An Army Ranger | The First Street Journal.
    December 6th, 2015 @ 1:11 pm

    […] Rangers Lead the Way […]

  6. Dana
    December 6th, 2015 @ 1:13 pm

    Oh, this article was so stolen by me!

    I want to point out one thing, from the middle photograph, where Mr McCain’s youngest son “photobombed”
    the picture. When our older daughter was graduated from Basic Combat
    Training at Fort Jackson, SC, we made the trek down, and our younger
    daughter got really big eyes seeing everything. She had never mentioned
    anything about enlisting herself prior to that, but she was talking
    about it soon after. At the time, she was a junior in high school, and
    she wanted to do BCT during the summer between her junior and senior
    years. Her recruiter was interested, but by the time she’d have had to
    commit, all of the MOSs which interested her were filled, and it made
    more sense for her to wait until October of her senior year to enlist.
    She was graduated on June 6, 2010, and left for BCT on June 22nd. Mr McCain, I’d say that it’s even money that “16-year-old brother Jeff” will be enlisting himself!

  7. Dana
    December 6th, 2015 @ 1:15 pm

    I did notice that the new Ranger had all of his rank insignia removed; surely he’s not a fuzzy private!

  8. Wombat_socho
    December 6th, 2015 @ 4:03 pm


  9. Mm
    December 6th, 2015 @ 4:13 pm

    Congratulations to your son and your family! I am grateful for his service, and for how you and your wife raised him. God bless you all!

  10. bobbymike34
    December 6th, 2015 @ 5:02 pm

    Congratulation true American Patriots, your whole family.

    I pray that on some future and distant battlefield a 120 women (who passed Ranger school with reduced physical standards) doesn’t put the combat effectiveness of your sons unit in jeopardy.

  11. M. Thompson
    December 6th, 2015 @ 8:28 pm

    Congrats to him!

  12. Frankie
    December 6th, 2015 @ 8:35 pm

    Tell your son congratulations for me. Ranger school is not fun. The feeling of accomplishment you get when you pass can’t be beat though.

  13. RosalindJ
    December 6th, 2015 @ 8:58 pm

    As a parent who attended her son’s Marine boot camp graduation, I can so relate to the pride you and your wife have for your son. Congratulations to all of you, and especially Bob.

  14. JeffS
    December 7th, 2015 @ 12:51 am

    It’s standard for newly commissioned officers to attend Ranger School as well. I never went to that school, but IIRC, everyone takes their rank off when they walk in the gates.

  15. JeffS
    December 7th, 2015 @ 12:52 am

    Congratulations! And I just hit the tip jar, a trifle late. I hope it helps.

  16. mole
    December 7th, 2015 @ 2:47 am

    Well when someone asks “that your boy”? you know you will be absolutely correct in replying “Nope, that’s my MAN”.
    Im glad he got over the negative reviews, is there a chance that’s something they throw at people randomly to see how well they take setbacks? Mental strength being a pretty huge part of any special forces toolkit.

  17. DebZeppelin
    December 7th, 2015 @ 9:39 am

    I only know you through your blog, and you’ll never know me, but congratulations on raising a MAN. Your post gives me hope for the future of this country. God bless you all.

  18. robertstacymccain
    December 7th, 2015 @ 10:36 am

    “Im glad he got over the negative reviews, is there a chance that’s something they throw at people randomly to see how well they take setbacks?”

    No, it was legit. Bob happened to find himself in a squad with several officers who didn’t like his attitude. To see it from Bob’s perspective, everybody in Ranger school is just a soldier. He felt as if these shavetails all knew each other from West Point and that they formed a clique from which he was excluded. Was his assessment of the situation accurate? I don’t know, but the point is, IT DOESN’T MATTER.

    You just suck it up and move along. There is no crying on the Bataan Death March.

  19. robertstacymccain
    December 7th, 2015 @ 10:38 am

    He’s a specialist. He’ll be up for promotion to sergeant at his next board.

  20. Dana
    December 7th, 2015 @ 12:09 pm

    Then I shall properly refer to him as SPC McCain! I would have thought, however, that as an E-4 in an infantry MOS he would be a corporal rather than a specialist.

  21. jimb82
    December 7th, 2015 @ 1:20 pm

    I believe that’s generally true. It depends on his unit’s policies, however.

  22. jimb82
    December 7th, 2015 @ 1:23 pm

    I was in Class 4-83, many years ago. Things have not changed appreciably in the past 30 years, as they had not in the 30 years before that. Ranger School is in the business of producing leaders. The single biggest benefit in my life of having graduated Ranger School is that having done the impossible routinely, I know I can do anything. Think about that and what it means for life. I KNOW that I can do ANYTHING. That stays with you.

  23. TC_LeatherPenguin
    December 7th, 2015 @ 3:56 pm

    That’s one damn scruffy beard, Stace. ;-p

  24. Mike Waldron
    December 7th, 2015 @ 4:03 pm

    Is he at the 75th Rgr Rgt? I was A Co 1/75 78 & 79 RS 6/79 Well done on his part! RLTW

  25. RD Walker
    December 7th, 2015 @ 4:05 pm

    I have stood in that precise spot and pinned the tab on my own son. Congratulations!

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  29. Rick554
    December 10th, 2015 @ 3:11 pm

    This ARMY dad knows exactly how Proud you are. Thank YOU SIR You have to learn to have that special worry with you 24/7. But I wouldn’t trade being an ARMY Dad for anything. GOD BLESS OUR TROOPS! Rick M. REDHORSE!!!

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