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Rogue Ranger

How an Adirondack Outlaw survived U.S. Army Ranger School

     Whether it was TV series like “Hogan’s Heroes”, movies like the “The Dirty Dozen”, “The Great Escape”, or the comic book heroes I worshipped, my die was cast at an early age.  From matching wits with the local ECOs, violating every “No Trespassing” sign and fishing regulation known to man, to pilfering homemade cookies from mom’s kitchen, by the time I’d graduated from Cornell and received my commission, I was a full-fledged outlaw.

     We had a “Cadet Ranger Battalion” at Cornell. Captain Scully was in charge of it. They got to do all the fun Army stuff. All the cool cadets were part of it. I was not one of them.

     Captain Scully wore a Ranger Tab. He’d been in a Ranger Battalion most of his career. He wore his patrol cap on ROTC field exercises and always smoked a pipe.  He seemed a bit larger than life.  He told lots of cool stories.  I decided at some point during my time at Cornell that Ranger School was my goal. I wanted that black & gold tab. I wanted to be like him.

     During the summer of 1985, I ran into more Rangers during ROTC Advanced Camp at Fort Bragg. My barracks NCOIC (Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge) AKA: my “drill sergeant”, a Master Sergeant E-8, was a Vietnam Veteran and Ranger. He took note of my field skills.  I finished Advanced Camp at the top of my class. He too inspired me.

     I stayed at Fort Bragg after Advanced Camp to attend Airborne School. I was not entirely sure of the whole process, but there were many Ranger qualified instructors there too. I clearly saw it as my first step towards Ranger School.

     All of the cadets at Bragg’s Airborne School were restricted to the barracks. One night during the second week of training, I got the urge for a night on the town. My Barracks NCOIC for Airborne School was a Special Forces E-7. He did a head count at 2100, with “lights out” shortly thereafter. The only time he allowed Airborne Candidates to leave the barracks after that was to go down to the end of the street to make a phone call.

     About 2130, I quietly dressed and snuck out the back door. The next morning in formation my NCOIC approached me and inquired “Cadet, where were you last night?” Without hesitation I belted out “I went down the street to make a phone call to my parents, Sergeant!”

     He just looked me up and down, nodded and smiled. Three days later I graduated.

     From there my path to that black & gold tab was far from a straight one. I somehow finally managed to graduate from Cornell and receive my commission the following December, 1985. My outlaw ways allowed me to achieve in five years what most students do in four, but that’s a whole ‘nother story.

     I was branched Military Intelligence. I was headed to Fort Huachuca, AZ, to The United States Army Intelligence Center and School. Somehow The United States Government had decided to give an Adirondack Outlaw a “Top Secret” Clearance. They were gonna train me to be a “spook”, an intel analyst, a battlefield spy. I suddenly found a great many very intriguing opportunities on my plate. A Ranger School slot was not initially slated to be one of them.

     I thought I had a Ranger School slot coming out of my Officer’s Basic Course at Huachuca. I received the Buffalo Soldier’s Award and once again graduated at the top of my class. There was one Ranger School slot available, several of us had been competing for it. As graduation approached, I was advised that I was awarded it.

      Then I was quite suddenly advised I was not. My slot had been pulled and given instead to an infantry lieutenant. Ranger School was near mandatory for infantry officers. As a military intelligence “spook”, apparently no one besides me much cared whether I went or not.  On my quest for that black & gold tab, this was a theme I would repeatedly encounter.

     Looking back, that was a blessing in disguise. As a 2nd Lieutenant fresh out of my Officer’s Basic Course, I was far from ready for Ranger School, though I had no idea of that fact at the time.

     I was assigned to the newly activated 10th Mountain Division, Light Infantry. I was an Adirondack Outlaw going home to Fort Drum.  After a short stint as a junior staff officer at Division HQ, I was “down on the block” as part of the only infantry battalion on post at the time. 1-22 Infantry;

Regulars by God!  

    I was the assistant Battalion S-2, an intelligence officer surrounded by infantry officers and men, most of them Ranger qualified. Most of those who weren’t tabbed yet wanted to be.

     I spent four years in that Battalion, made 1st Lieutenant, bided my time. I eventually became the Battalion S-2, holding a Captain’s post as a 1st LT. We deployed to Honduras, The Joint Readiness Training Center, completed an unending array of field training evaluations and exercises. I made my desire to attend Ranger School known. I completed Fort Drum’s Combat Leader’s Course as “Distinguished Honor Graduate”.

     I trained every day to be ready for Ranger School when my chance arrived. I ran, did push-ups, pull-ups and sit-ups, practiced land navigation, knot tying, climbing ropes.

     As part of unit training, our battalion completed two 100-mile road marches.  100 miles in five days, a grueling exercise. Near the completion of our second 100 miler, I was seated in my hooch one night, tending to the blisters on the bottoms of my feet, which at that point were hamburger.

    Our Battalion Executive Officer, Major Anderson, popped his head into my tent. Our Battalion S-3, Major Olsen, was sitting next to me. They both wore Ranger tabs. The XO announced “LT Monroe, one of the other LT’s got hurt and washed out. Congratulations! His slot’s now yours. Pack your bags. You’re headed to Ranger School.”

     The Battalion S-3, Major Olsen, piped up. He had sort of taken me under his wing. As Battalion S-2 and S-3, the Intelligence and Operations officers, we spent a great deal of time in the field together.

     Major Olsen vehemently protested. “Mike, you can’t send him there NOW! We’ve just walked 100 miles in five days. Look at his feet.  He’ll never make it.”

     Major Anderson took one look at my feet and agreed. I’d waited four years for a slot. I I’d had one slot snatched from me at Huachuca, now I stood to lose a 2nd slot while I sat trying not to scream as our battalion medic armed with syringes drained and pumped the massive blisters on my feet full of a glue-like skin bonding substance called “Tincture of Benzoine”.

     Finally, in early February of 1989, near the end of my tenure in 1-22 Infantry, my Battalion Commander, LTC Joyner, advised me that my time had come. As a by then well-seasoned senior lieutenant in the battalion, I had hard earned a slot. I was headed to Ranger School.

     I arrived at Fort Benning in March. Ranger School class 8-89.  There were initially nearly 400 Ranger Candidates in our class. There were so many of us that not everyone got bunks. I was one of the unlucky ones. I got a comfy spot in one concrete floor corner.

     It didn’t matter much though, because we rarely slept. When we did finally get to sleep in the barracks, the Ranger Instructors would come in, banging batons on garbage can lids, spotlights glaring, screaming at us through bull horns:

“What’s The Spirit of Hand to Hand!? What’s the spirit of Hand to Hand?!”

     To which we responded at the top of our lungs:


     as we marched, head shaven, tired and hungry, to the hand-to-hand pit for a night’s hands on lesson on how to do just that. If a Ranger Instructor thought one candidate wasn’t throwing or kicking his Ranger buddy hard enough, that RI was likely to step in and do some kicking or throwing himself!

     Our numbers quickly dwindled during that first week. “Hell Week” or “Zero Week”, as it was called, weeded out those unable to successfully complete the U.S. Army Ranger School’s most basic requirements: physical fitness and swim tests, jump refresher training, day and night land navigation (Map and compass days folks, no GPS).

     The swim test was no problem for me. I grew up in the water and swam like a fish. We had to go off a high diving board blindfolded, fully dressed, boots on, with our web gear, holding a dummy rifle. Once in the water, candidates had to swim to a designated point and get out. That was not a test I even had to practice for.

     The physical fitness test was tough, but I had been training for four years. I was ready.  Push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups, and a timed 2-mile run. At that point in time, I could do push-ups all day, which proved to be a good thing, as the Ranger Instructor counting my push-ups on test day had his own unique way of counting:


I’m not sure how many I actually did. Seemed to me like 100.

     As the first week progressed and our numbers dwindled, eventually I graduated to a bunk.  Which I of course never slept in. As we completed “Hell Week”, we each got assigned to a platoon and a squad. We also each got a “Ranger Buddy”.  Mine was an Engineer Captain who also happened to be from Fort Drum. Hs name was Ed. He hailed from Florida.

     I entered Ranger School at a lean, mean 165 pounds. As the grueling training continued, one thing quickly became my primary focus:


     We ate meals in the chow hall that 1st week. Well, “ate” is a relative term. More like “wolfed”. No speaking was allowed, and once we got through the chow line, we had about 4 minutes before the Ranger Instructors herded us out of there. I think by the end of that 1st week I was already down in weight a good ten pounds.

     I had been schooled on many Ranger School survival techniques by the other officers in my unit before I departed. One of the things I was advised to do was stash some cash in my duffel. Now, getting caught with said cash meant an immediate washout or at best, a trip to “The Gulag.”

     The Gulag was exactly what it sounds like. A prison for washout Ranger candidates, hoping for a 2nd chance as a recycle.  The Gulag was run by Ranger Instructors with a massive “Case of the Ass”, focused on grueling 24/7 harassment.  It was the last place anyone wanted to end up. Especially me. I was determined never to go there. So, Ranger Rule #1 for me became:

“Don’t Get Caught”.

     There were many things that could cause a Ranger Candidate to wash out and get sent to the Gulag: falling back or falling out on a road march or run, failing to complete an assigned mission or task, falling asleep in a patrol base, a bad peer review, or getting caught with unauthorized food, AKA: “Pogey Bait”.  

     Because we began in March, Ranger School class 8-89 was considered a “winter” class. As a result, once in the field, we were issued two MRE’s a day, which seems like a lot. Unless you’re in Ranger School.

     Ranger candidates were allowed to have all the gum and tobacco products they could carry. Beyond that, NOTHING outside what came in our MRE’s was authorized. I remember getting “care packages” in the mail regularly from my family, especially my sister-in-law. She sent me an endless supply of homemade cookies, brownies, and candy bars. The Ranger Instructors would call us out at mail call and give us a choice, leave the package unopened in the mail room, where we could claim it upon graduation, or open it on the spot, and have anything unauthorized immediately confiscated.

     I always chose the latter. I couldn’t justify to myself allowing those Ranger Instructors the pleasure of stomping my sister-in-law’s homemade cookies and brownies into the mud right in front of me. As a result, I had a huge supply of very stale baked goods awaiting my graduation in the Ranger School mail room.

     Food quickly became an obsession for me. I fantasized about Snickers Bars. Despite the risks, I knew that as soon as an opportunity arose to score some pogey bait, I would grab it.

     I somehow survived Hell Week. My first real chance to score pogey bait arrived as we were being bused to Dahlonega Georgia’s Mountain Ranger Camp.

     I was seated on the bus next to my Ranger Buddy, Ed.  There were multiple buses, each with a Ranger Instructor seated up front.

     I spotted several dirty, stale Doritos under my seat. I quickly ate them. I offered one to Ed, but he did not seem interested. I was still hungry.

     We dozed as we rode. Then at some point, we stopped in a parking lot. All the drivers and Ranger Instructors got off the buses. Some of the RI’s taunted us.

“Going inside for a nice hot meal. Anyone wants to join us, all they got to do is ring this here bell.”

     I wasn’t ringing any bell. I’d spotted a small gas station across the street from the restaurant. Once all of the RI’s were safely inside, I made my move. The buses masked the view of the gas station from where they sat.

I don’t remember what I said to Ed. I just remember getting off the bus, keeping the buses between me and the restaurant. I entered the gas station. There was a rack of candy bars against one wall. I spotted an open display case of snickers bars asked the attendant “How many more cases of those you got?”

He quickly checked in back and came out with another.

“Great, Thanks. I’ll take them both.”

     I quickly paid the attendant with cash from my stash and headed back across the street to my bus, two cases of Snickers Bars in my arms. My fellow Ranger Candidates seemed something between slightly amazed and somewhat stunned.

     I got on the bus and walked up and down the rows, tossing every man a Snickers Bar. Not a single man complained. Everyone quickly devoured them. I had about half a dozen left for myself. I ate three or four on the spot, and stashed two in my duffel. I’d save them for later.

     A man learns a great many things in Ranger School, both about survival and himself.  I learned a lot of lessons about hunger, motivation, teamwork, perseverance, and stealth.

     Mountain Phase focused on patrolling, rappelling and knot tying.  Mountain Ranger Camp also featured one other thing: Blueberry Pancakes! I can still taste them.

     When we were in base camp, in our billets, which was not often, we ate in the chow hall. Breakfast there featured blueberry pancakes. The Ranger Instructors had many ingenious systems for teaching Ranger Candidates many lessons at once.  One of them revolved around blueberry pancakes.

     Ranger Candidates would take turns being assigned to work in the chow hall. Those assigned to make Blueberry pancakes and serve them to their peers would get to eat what was left. If those serving gypped those they were serving in order to boost their own meal, their fellow candidates would know it, and send them to the Gulag via bad peer reviews.  If a server tried to give his Ranger Buddy too big a helping, he cheated himself, and ended up pancakeless. It was a beyond perfect system for some beyond perfect pancakes.

When we weren’t in the billets studying the wonders of blueberry pancakes, we were in the field studying recons, ambushes and raids. One day on a reconnaissance patrol, we stumbled across the remains of a vacant civilian camping site. Next to the firepit I discovered half a bag of stale dry dog food. Before the Ranger Instructor grading our patrol got wind of what we had discovered, my squad sat down and devoured it. On the spot. It’s amazing the things a soldier will eat once he becomes truly hungry.

     It was also in Mountain Phase that I learned another important lesson. Take care of your feet. One of my boot linings began chafing my foot. I developed a sore, which became cellulitis. My foot was infected and red.  I knew I was in trouble.

     Every morning the medics would come for foot check while we were out on patrol. When they did so, I would avoid them being out on water detail. I did this to buy time, until we got back to the barracks and I could figure a better plan out.  I did not want to get medically washed out and end up in the Gulag.

     Finally, I got a break. We returned to the barracks for a mandatory five hours of sleep. We were slated to jump the next day. I took that moment to go to the infirmary. There was a Special Forces Physician’s Assistant there. He took one look at my foot.

“Ranger Candidate, you’re done.”

     I pleaded my case, asking him to give me a chance.  He then took a pen and drew a circle around the swollen red part of my foot.  He gave me some powder and some penicillin tablets

“If this infection has not withdrawn to within this circle by tomorrow, you’re done.”

He put me in a bed in the infirmary. I looked around me at the other Ranger Candidates there. They were all asleep. I was determined not to go to the Gulag. I stayed up all night, putting powder on my foot and taking those pills. By morning the infection had gone down and I was cleared to return to duty.  I had a spare pair of newly broken in jungle boots in my duffel. I swapped out boots, re-joined my squad and got ready to jump.

     We completed Mountain Phase. I passed my 1st graded patrol. Ranger Candidates had to pass at least one patrol in each phase. One down, two to go.

     We went from the Mountains to Florida, with a detour to Benning. Operation Just Cause was ongoing at the time, so events in Panama had everything in a state of flux, including the availability of airframes. There were even rumors floating around that they were going to deploy our Ranger Class to Panama as a unit. But as with most rumors, I sincerely doubt that was true. What WAS true was, that because of the uncertain nature and ongoing demands of the conflict, military airframe availability was erratic. As a result, while we were back at Benning, our Ranger Instructors had each of us pack a change of civilian clothes in the bottom of our duffels, in the event that at the end of the course, military transport was not available, and we had to return home on civilian aircraft.

     Eventually, airframes became available, and we deployed to Florida for the “Florida” or Swamp Phase of Ranger School. We were supposed to jump in but ended up air landing at an airfield. I believe it was MacDill Army Airfield.

     Once in Florida, we were billeted once again in preparation for a scheduled jump. Our barracks building had one Ranger Instructor. He was billeted in a room on end of the 1st floor. While there, each squad was assigned to pull “Fire Guard”. Our barracks building was near the airfield tarmac, across the street from the fire station.

     Thus evolved my second major pogey bait score. I still had a good stash of cash. My squad was all in on the plan.  When it was our turn to pull fire guard, two of us ran across the street to the fire hall. It was civilian run. There was one fireman on duty. They all knew about Ranger School, and he was more than eager to help us execute our plan.

     W aske to borrow his phone, still old school rotary then and a phone book, still the good ol’ Yellow Pages. We looked up the nearest pizza joint. Turned out the pizza delivery guy had heard of Ranger School too. Must have been we weren’t the 1st ones who ever called, because he seemed to understand what we wanted.

     We ordered two large extra cheese pizzas, a couple 2-liter bottles of Coke, and told him we’d pay extra if he stopped by the store and picked us up a loaf of bread, a jar of peanut butter, some Oreo cookies, and a case of Snickers bars. He agreed.

     We instructed him to cut his lights and drive out onto the tarmac near the jump refresher pits and we would meet him there.  He complied. Everything went as planned.  A squad of Ranger School candidates sat eating pizza, snickers bars and peanut butter sandwiches in the jump refresher pit on an Airforce base in Florida. 

    We buried the empty pizza boxes and trash in the sand in that jump refresher pit.  To this day I have wondered what the Ranger Instructors’ faces must have looked like when they found it.

     I had two Snickers bars and half a loaf of Wonder Bread left after our feast. I could not bring myself to throw it away and was so stuffed I couldn’t eat it. So, I took it back to the barracks with me, figuring I’d find a place to stash it.

     As luck would have it, the next day The Ranger Instructors announced a surprise equipment inspection as we prepared to jump. Full layout.  There I was with two Snickers bars and half a loaf of bread.  I refused to panic. My old ALICE ruck’s fame was all beat to hell and held together with duct tape. At the bottom of the frame, on the inside, was an indentation the perfect size for a snickers bar. So, I simply jammed each of my Snicker’s bars into the frame and wrapped them in duct tape. I took the Wonder Bread, squished that down into a tight ball, and wrapped that in duct tape too.

     On our way out behind the barracks building for equipment layout, I spotted a rain gutter downspout, I shoved that ball of bread up into it. I then laid out my equipment for full inspection by the RI’s, Snickers bars and all. They were none the wiser.

     We jumped that night. Once on the ground and in my perimeter, I peeled one of those Snickers Bars out of my ALICE ruck frame and sat there eating it, smiling.   I had the ball of bread in my rucksack. I’d cut that open later and eat it sprinkled with the sugar packet from one of my MRE’s. A damned fine Ranger School meal!

     It’s amazing how muted our senses are and we don’t even know it. By the end of Florida Phase I was probably down 25-30 pounds, and even with the pogey bait scores, always starving.

     One thing that became very acute was my sense of smell. If someone on the other side of our perimeter opened a packet of cocoa beverage powder, I could smell it.

     I led two patrols in Florida, passed one and failed one. One “Go” and one “No-Go”. Now I was 2-1 for patrols, had passed my PT and swim tests, land nav day & night, all my runs and road marches, plus my peer reviews and knot test. All I had left to do was pass at least one more patrol. We were headed to Dugway Proving Ground, Utah for Desert Phase, but all I could think about was Snickers bars.

     When we got to Dugway, we once again stayed in a barracks. We were supposed to jump one more time, but got waved off due to wind, and ended up air landing.

     I don’t know what they do at Dugway Proving Grounds, but it was bustling with civilians. Across an open stretch of well-lit street and dust from our barracks was a snack bar frequented by Ranger Instructors and civilians alike.  For Ranger Candidates it was STRICTLY off limits.

     At some point during our tenure there, for some reason unbeknownst to me, we were allowed to do laundry.  We were all to march in a line to take our filthy BDUs to the base laundromat. I had other plans.

     I went into the barracks latrine and cleaned every last bit of grimy camo from my face. Then I dug down into the bottom of my duffel and pulled out the set of civilian clothes the Ranger Instructors had ordered us to pack. When my platoon went outside to get in line, I ducked behind the building into a huge rain culvert that went under the street. There I changed into civilian clothes, hung my military ID around my neck like an ID badge, stashed my duffel in the culvert, and calmly walked across the street.

     The snack bar was bustling with military civilian employees and Ranger Instructors. None of them paid me any mind. I calmly walked over to the change machine and started feeding it bills. Once I had a good pile of change, I went to the vending machines and bought myself a nice lunch, as well as a good supply of pogey bait to take back and share with my squad.

     I was feeling quite full of myself, so I sat at a table to eat. Ranger Instructors were at the next table over. They suspected nothing. At one point though, a young uniformed enlisted man entered the snack bar. He spotted me and stopped in his tracks momentarily. I knew that I had been made. He recovered quickly though, gave me an incredulous look, and went on about his business.

     I returned to my squad as they returned from doing laundry, none of the Ranger Instructors had missed me. I shared candy bars with the rest of my squad, then we all went into the desert.

     I went 1-1 in Desert Phase too, ended up 3-2 on patrols, but that was good enough to graduate.  We ended up going back to Fort Benning on a civilian airliner. The stewardesses served us breakfast. When the stewardesses weren’t looking, all the Ranger Candidates were scrambling around to get a different seat.

Haven’t you ever heard of second breakfast?

     Ed and I returned to Fort Drum after graduation. We lost track of each other, but I think he eventually retired as a Colonel.  One thing I will always remember is him telling me,

“If I ever need someone for a clandestine Op., I’m calling you.”

I learned a great many lessons in Ranger School.

Most of them about myself.


Until Our Trails Cross Again: