Yesterday, he was just a fun-loving kid. His long blond curls and athletic body made him popular with the girls and the friend that every boy wanted to hang out with. He was a smart kid, polite, and easy to be around.
This week, I was proud to watch as my nephew, Davis Evans Ponder, graduated from Ranger School at Fort Benning, Georgia. The curls are long gone, as are most of the other things that go along with being a kid. Make no mistake, that boy has given way to the man.
I have not really talked to Davis about the training that he underwent to become a Ranger. I figure he can tell me that when and if he ever wants to share the details. However, I have spent a good bit of time reading about Rangers, their history and their training regimen to give myself a bit of perspective about what Davis just accomplished.
According the United States Army website, Ranger School is one of the toughest training courses for which a soldier can volunteer. For over two months, and for some, much longer, Ranger students train to exhaustion, pushing the limits of their minds and bodies.
Each class starts out with around 450 volunteers. They are men and women. Some are enlisted and some are officers. They represent all branches of the military, although most are members of the U.S. Army.
Ranger School began at Fort Benning in 1950. Women first graduated in 2015. The average age is 23. The first phase is at Fort Benning, followed by the Mountain Phase near Dahlonega, Georgia with the final phase in the swamps near Eglin Air Force Base in Florida.
At the end of the training, only a third of the original volunteers graduate. That number is made even more amazing when you consider that all the volunteers were already fit and motivated soldiers.
Training averages just over 20 hours per day, while consuming just two meals daily. Hunger and sleep deprivation are some of the tools to teach the solider how to become a combat leader, simulating the great mental and psychological stress and physical fatigue that may occur during combat.
The initial week of training at Fort Benning is known RAP (Ranger Assessment Phase). Sixty percent of all students that fail Ranger School drop out during these first few days. A few examples of the physical fitness that is required include doing 49 push-ups in two minutes while being graded for perfect form. You are required to do 59 sit-ups in two minutes, in addition to doing six chin-ups from a dead hang with no lower body movement.
Along the way, you learn how to conquer fear of heights, water and darkness. You run over difficult terrain with heavy packs. Think 12 miles in three hours. You fail and you are dropped from the course.
Davis had his Ranger tab pinned on his uniform by his parents. He can wear it the rest of his career. I watched their proud faces beam as they should. Ranger School is also about family. Davis could never have passed without the support of his family, friends and those he serves encouraging him all along the way.
Mary Lou and I are blessed to have four nephews and two nieces. We are immensely proud of all of them. They each have their own special talents and successes. However, this particular week belongs to Davis.
I already know what Davis has learned. You don’t do this to impress people or to prove anything to your family or friends. You attempt these types of challenges because of your own inner need to prove it to yourself. That satisfaction of knowing you achieved your goal is something you can take with you the rest of your life.
Along the way, the boy became a man. As a Ranger and as a man, I know that Davis will continue to lead the way. Well done, Davis. Well done.
Dan Ponder can be reached at [email protected]