UTICA, N.Y. – Two of the new faces in the New York National Guard arrived at their first unit for drill this year with a unique addition to their uniforms: the Army Ranger tab.
Pfcs. Jason Chun, 20, of Syracuse, and Brandon Snyder, 23, from Livonia, New York, completed the demanding 61-day Army Ranger School before joining the 2nd Battalion, 108th Infantry Regiment, based in Utica, a part of the 27th Infantry Brigade Combat Team.
The Ranger School emphasizes close combat and direct-fire battles. Training focuses on small-unit tactics and leadership. Candidates carry out ambush and scouting missions in three phases, including mountain and swamp mission environments.
"The Ranger course is the Army's premier leadership school," according to Capt. James Sturges, commander of Alpha Company at the Army National Guard Warrior Training Center at Fort Benning, Georgia.
And both Chun and Snyder completed the Ranger course immediately following their initial entry training as infantrymen.
They got there through the Ranger Team Leader Initiative (RTLI). New Soldiers who excel in training are identified and offered a chance to tackle Ranger School right out of their One Station Unit Training.
The two had no idea the opportunity would present itself in the first year of their military service.
"It was absolutely a surprise to me. I never thought that I'd get an opportunity like that," Snyder said.
"I've been wanting to go to Ranger School since I was in high school," Chun said in December at his graduation. "It was the challenge. It was the ability to find out who you really were and what you're really made of. But I definitely didn't expect it to come as soon as it did."
Snyder, who graduated in August, agrees that as a new recruit, Ranger School was the highest training goal he had.
"It was kind of like my dream to go to Ranger School, and I remember asking my recruiter about it," he said.
The RTLI program scouts for candidates at Fort Benning and identifies the best potential National Guard Soldiers to succeed at the Ranger course.
"I didn't even know about the program until the day that cadre said they were offering me a chance to starve myself for an additional eight weeks," Snyder said of his selection.
Cadre make visits to Fort Benning's Infantry and Armor OSUT training centers, explained 1st Lt. Gabriel Musser, RTLI's officer in charge. The process begins the day trainees arrive for basic training, providing an overview about the Ranger School.
"We go in there and say, 'This is what we're looking for, specifically,'" Musser said. "Once we narrow that down, we'd like to talk to those 10 or 15 kids."
They consult drill sergeants later in the course to identify and scout which National Guard Soldiers may be good candidates.
Snyder said he took the opportunity without hesitation.
"As soon as he offered it, I knew I should go after it with everything I have and give it 100 percent," he said.
"In sending young Guard Soldiers, we are developing the future of the National Guard," Sturges said. "When they go back to their units, you have the young, competent leaders who can influence things at their level."
Ranger qualification early in a military career can strengthen the Soldier's prospects for advancement and help develop and retain exceptional noncommissioned officers, Musser said.
The 30-day course prepares enlisted Guard members for the Army National Guard "pre-Ranger" course, called the Ranger Training Assessment Course.
"RTLI was one of the steps to get me to a level where I could successfully complete Ranger School," Chun said. "It was a building block. It was the basis, a foundation."
"RTLI, it taught me how to be a Ranger," he said. "How to do Ranger pushups. How to do everything the correct way. So it was a great help."
Sending a new private to Ranger School is not the norm, explained Col. Michael A. Scarpulla, commander of the Airborne and Ranger Training Brigade at Fort Benning.
The brigade trains Rangers, paratroopers, jumpmasters, pathfinders and reconnaissance leaders.
"It is not a commonplace thing when a Soldier goes straight from initial entry training in the military straight into Ranger School," Scarpulla said. "Normally, Soldiers spend about a year or two at their unit and get practical experience as a member of a fire team and such."
Snyder said he knows his experience is unique and he wants to pass along what he learned to other recruits and his fellow unit Soldiers.
"Show up for training and work hard and anything is possible," he said. "If I knew exactly what to shoot for going in, I'd be better prepared, and that's what I hope I can relay to others."
Chun joined his company and began his National Guard service at the beginning of the year.
"I'm just really enjoying being a regular Joe," Chun said, training with his company and sharing lessons and experiences as a Ranger with his fellow Soldiers. "I bear the tab with pride."
Snyder said his Ranger qualification brings high expectations on performance, even at such a junior level. He begins drills with his company in October.
"I realize this comes with a lot of weight and a lot of expectations, to be that leader, because I've been to Ranger School," he said. "But I'm ready, and if Ranger School has taught me anything, it's taught me to be humble and be resilient."