A look inside Ranger School, where the Army's toughest soldiers are made

Two women made history this week when they completed Ranger School, one of the US military’s most demanding courses. It’s a gruelling, two-month physical and mental gauntlet, and graduating from it earns almost universal respect within the armed forces — one of the quickest ways to show how tough you are in the Army is to wear a Ranger tab.

In the months it takes to complete the course, a soldier’s endurance is pushed to the absolute limit. Ranger candidates survive on one meal a day and a few hours of sleep per night.

They arrive at Ft. Benning in the best shape of their lives and will lose an average of 20 pounds if they stay the full course.

The Discovery Channel’s “Surviving the Cut” shows the 61-day course at Fort Benning and offers a glimpse into some of the toughest military training in the world. The attrition rate at Ranger School is intense and less than one-in-three who start the course achieve the coveted tab.

This post is originally by Allison Churchill, Robert Johnson, and Geoffrey Ingersoll

338 Ranger candidates begin the 61-day course long before the sun's up -- and won't stop for another 20 hours

It's a non-stop schedule that includes brutal hand-to-hand combat tests ...

... along with strength tests where candidates carry another soldier 100-yards, the kind of ability that save lives on the battlefield.

The goal is to drive the troops to exhaustion -- and see how far they can keep going when they think they can go no further.

Here, the trainees run to an obstacle course -- those lights are L-shaped flashlights clipped to their uniforms with red filters to preserve night vision.

Each soldier is assigned a partner -- a battle buddy -- to emphasise the importance of teamwork.

But in the end it's up to the individual to overcome obstacles like this -- even when it's so cold that hands start to go numb.

Weakness is pounced upon and even punished -- but no one quits on the first day. They quit when they get back to the barracks and realise how brutal the course actually is.

Almost 40 guys have washed out by the morning of Day 2 -- those remaining have to confront great heights and cold water.

The candidates need to climb a ladder to the narrow bridge before walking across and shimmying down a zip-line on the far side.

Some don't expect the heights and start dropping out.

No matter how well they make it across, everyone must drop into the frigid water wearing full gear to prove they can swim.

Once everyone completes the obstacle course, they take their 60 pounds of gear and begin the 15-mile march back to the barracks.

The march takes them into Day 3, while weeding out the 'weak and faint-hearted.'

After a few hours of sleep, 232 soldiers line up for another day -- 106 members shy of their original number. Nobody talks about the ones that are gone.

Today is the last day of the 'Benning Phase' where traditionally 60 per cent of potential Rangers wash-out.

From Ft. Benning they ruck it to the 'Mountain Phase' at the remote Camp Merrill near Dahlonega, Georgia.

Aside from physical challenges like rappelling 100 feet with an 80-pound-pack, the remote location inflicts intense isolation on top of extreme physical and mental hardship.

There are hardships aplenty. Many of the candidates chew coffee grounds and even put Tabasco sauce in their eyes.

After more than two weeks in the mountains another 91 guys have quit or been dropped. From the original 338, only 141 remain.

A month later, the soldiers that are left board a flight to the Everglades for the 'Swamp' portion of the course.

This phase develops skills necessary to survive in rain forests and swamps, in part by teaching soldiers how to deal with reptiles and identify venomous snakes.

Finally, when they're out of the swamp, a 10-day field-training exercise begins. It's like Ranger School's final exam.

The exercise involves an extensively planned raid on the troops' location.

At this point, the students are essentially sleepwalking, relying on training and instincts to carry them through the hardest part of Ranger School.

Bursts of adrenaline help -- like this gunfight where the guys extract a hostage from an occupied building.

Trainees have to re-do every part of the exercise until they can execute it perfectly.

This team wasn't following a noticeable plan when they first approached the building, but their leader woke up and whipped them into shape.

And even after successfully completing the mission, the day wasn't over.

The Ranger applicants then had to evaluate their peers on leadership skills -- and on whether they'd actually want to have them in their foxhole.

After all that, it's not until graduation that troops find out if they have been selected.

103 troops were selected from the original 338. Less than one-in-three of the guys earned their tab. 'I recall certain instances no one will understand,' one new Ranger said, 'but the memories will be with me for the rest of my life'

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