Colombian Ranger Course, 62 Years of Training
By Yolima Dussán/Diálogo June 20, 2017After 77 days of intense military training requiring huge physical, mental, and psychological demands to earn the spear that certifies them as Colombian Rangers, 78 officers and noncommissioned officers shouted out the words that sum up the values of this combat course, which is the most prestigious among the armies in the region. “Loyalty, bravery, and sacrifice” is the trilogy that fills the members of the Colombian Army with pride. To date, 425 of these courses have been held, 85 of which have included students from 22 countries. Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, France, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Spain, the United States, and Uruguay have all completed this training. Ecuador (116) and the United States (124) are the nations with the highest number of service members who have participated in the training at the Colombian Army War College, founded in 1955. In Colombia, the appearance of guerilla groups more than 60 years ago determined the Army’s need for new ways of fighting and strategizing. It was at Fort Benning, Georgia where the first group of Colombian service members took the Ranger Course, which is considered the most effective training for acquiring skills in asymmetrical warfare. Officers at the ranks of captain, first lieutenant, and second lieutenant attend this small-unit tactical level training for commanders of squads, platoons, and companies. Among the noncommissioned officers, there are sergeants, staff sergeants, corporals, and specialists. The reasons for its prestige “In Colombia, we measure the efficiency of the [Rangers] course because we put it into practice in real life,” Colonel Siervo Tulio Roa Roa, the commander of the Rangers School, told Diálogo. “The experience we have accumulated over so many years of asymmetrical warfare with guerilla groups, that have not achieved their objective by force of arms, shows the strength of putting our ranger combat units into action,” he added. In 1955, when the first group of officers and enlisted personnel to be trained in the Ranger course in the United States returned home, they did so accompanied by U.S. Army officials. That is where the Ranger School was born. Its name inspired by a small unit of valiant fighters who took part in the heroic liberation struggle of 1819. Sixty-two years later, its fundamentals remain the same but the scope of the training is broader; it is aligned with the objectives of a multimission army. Loyalty, bravery, and sacrifice The course motto is the ranger’s creed – the creed of the person who is expected to go the extra mile and give 110 percent. “As long as a commander has a ranger under his command, no operation is impossible. The level of commitment of the service members who take the course is very high. Whoever applies for the course knows what he is in for. Not everyone is able to pass it,” Major Ramón Raúl Royero, the academic inspector at the Ranger School, told Diálogo. In 2016, 1,058 students enrolled and 906 graduated. On average, 15 to 20 percent drop out. Through this training, which is reserved [for now] for men only, the trainees’ physical, technical, tactical, technological, psychological, and humanitarian capabilities are strengthened. “The program has several phases, with an initial three-day starting period during which the future ranger is put through psychological and physical trials on land and in the water. He is also put through medical exams and lab tests to determine his condition and skills,” Maj. Royero explained. Next, comes a 16-day adaptation phase through immersion in written operational planning and the study of technical subjects — communications, health, human rights, etc .— together with the fundamentals of weaponry, firing, air assault, obstacle courses, and hand-to-hand combat, among others. It is in this phase that the highest number of trainees drops out. The only constant is the daily physical training, which becomes increasingly rigorous, demanding, and nearly devastating. The final test The 22-day foundation of tactics phase is devoted to asymmetrical warfare doctrine that then goes into a live practice exercise with a mock enemy. This includes military planning at the squad level. Ten days of training are devoted to the mountain phase in Páramo de Sumapaz in the department of Cundinamarca. This is a rugged survival training in a harsh climate. Here, the practice exercises to be evaluated are at the platoon level. The jungle operations phase is conducted at Fort Amazonas 2, in the south of the country. In that inhospitable environment, with its humidity, its unfamiliarity, and its surprises, the rangers practice exercises that are evaluated at the platoon level. Later, they scale up their operations to the company level. Their study of survival skills is followed by the final trial, a march through the jungle that is as demanding as can be. Marching across 36 kilometers, carrying a 20-kilogram pack is a standard task for a ranger. This is a mock long-range mission, and it is the most difficult test. The operation involves solving unexpected situations during the exercise in which all of the training received is put into practice: skills on capturing, climbing up and down trees, shelters, the keys of isolation, jungle doctrine, combat encounters, mobile patrol bases, and making water crossings just below the surface of the water. After 22 days of jungle operations, the training will have concluded. Evaluations are conducted based on results. After a four-day waiting period, trainees receive their evaluation from their superiors. Then they attend a memorable graduation ceremony that certifies the men as Colombian rangers. They are “men who will never be the same again. They are service members who dominate special conditions and are used to responding effectively and knowledgeably, equipped with the ability to get through adverse situations, and strongly rooted in the well-being of civil society,” Col. Roa concluded.