Airman Ranger made the cut, now leads the way

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Brigitte N. Brantley-Sisk
  • 23rd Wing Public Affairs
The course began with 404 people. After 61 days of fast-paced stressful situations that pushed them past their physical and mental limits, only 191 remained, and only one was an Airman.

Airman 1st Class Matthew Garner, 823rd Base Defense Squadron member, is one of fewer than 300 Airmen to make it through Army Ranger School and earn the Ranger tab since the school opened in the 1950s.

"I wanted to become a Ranger to find out what my limits were. Completing the course helped me realize there were no limits," said Airman Garner, who graduated April 29. "The course is designed to help you find out who you really are. You're tired and hungry, and surrounded by chaos and confusion in the worst of conditions, but you still have to overcome adversity and get the job done."

Airman Garner was chosen to fill one of only six slots the Air Force gets each year for the course and is only the third person in his extended family to ever join the military.

During the nine weeks of the combat leadership course held at Fort Benning, Ga., the aspiring Rangers were isolated as they learned the skills that led them to gaining the coveted qualification.

"We were allowed mail during most parts of the course, and that was definitely a morale booster," said Airman Garner. "What really helped each person get through the training was their team. It takes a lot of individual effort, but nobody earns the Ranger tab on their own. If someone was having a particularly rough day, the teammates would help support them."

To help aid with the team concept, none of the students wore ranks.

The three phases hone their combat skills including demolitions, mountaineering, ability to lead a platoon-sized patrol, combat arms proficiency, land navigation, and combat water survival.

The phases were held in different environments, including mountains and a coastal swamp, but each phase tested the students' commitment and stamina while facing severe weather, hunger, mental and physical stress, and emotional stress.

The Army Ranger website estimates that students exert about 80 percent during the course; 100 percent exertion is death.

"Because I went through the Air Force pre-Ranger course, I felt like I had really been set up for success," said Airman Garner. "Overall, I put about 10 months of intense training into earning my Ranger tab."

He credits two people with helping him the most during the preparation process: his father, Don Garner, and Staff Sgt. Seth Hunter, 820th Combat Operations Squadron.

"We're very proud of him for serving his country and accomplishing something like this," said Mr. Garner. "Even as a young man, he was always into exercising and doing things that weren't expected of him. Before joining the Air Force, he went to college for a year on a bull-riding scholarship. Bull-riding isn't something Indiana is known for."

Airman Garner started riding bulls when he was 14 years old, and has spent two years since then as an amateur and three years as a pro. His father acted as a coach then, but still has an effect on his son now.

"My father helped me develop the mental fortitude to drive forward and never quit," said Airman Garner. "He was like a personal coach and gave me some memorable 'don't quit' talking sessions. During the Ranger course, the temptation to quit is always there, so that really helped."

Airman Garner also credits Sergeant Hunter with some of his success. It began when Sergeant Hunter himself graduated Ranger school.

"I graduated from Ranger school in October 2010 and then helped assess Airman Garner during his pre-Ranger course late last year," said Sergeant Hunter, 820th COS manager for tactical training, and sharpshooter and sniper skills. "We spent a lot of time training and preparing for this, and I'm super proud of him.

"Only 30 percent of Rangers make it through the entire course without being recycled, and he was one of them," he added. "His graduation is an outstanding accomplishment, especially for someone his age. The leadership and combat skills he's gained during Ranger school will be very beneficial to his unit."

There were also other attendees at the graduation whose new expertise will benefit their units- service members from other countries including Canada, Switzerland and the country of Georgia.

The graduation included a Rangers in Action Demonstration which showcased rappelling, demolitions, extraction by helicopter, and hand-to-hand combat abilities.

Airman Garner will gain another critical skill at the end of May when he attends the U.S. Army Airborne School and earns the title of Airborne Ranger.