What Army Ranger School Taught Me About Stress

Years ago, as a young soldier assigned to the 1st Ranger Battalion, I attended the Army's Ranger School. This course is one of the toughest training environments offered by the Army. The purpose of the course is to prepare officers and enlisted Soldiers in combat arms related functional skills.

Ranger Training

Ranger training was established in 1950 at Fort Benning, Georgia and has changed little since its beginning. The course is eight weeks divided into three phases. It is mentally and physically grueling. Historically, the graduation rate is about 50%. This is especially high given that most of the attendees have gone through intensive preparation before their arrival at the course.
 
Following the completion of Ranger School, a student will usually find himself in very poor physical condition. Ranger School's toll is equivalent to years of natural aging. High levels of stress, sleep deprivation, and undernourishment, along with continual physical strain, take a tremendous toll on the mind and body.
Ranger School Roadmarch

Stress

Stress is a feeling of emotional or physical tension. It can come from any of a variety of events or thoughts. Stress is your body's reaction to a challenge or demand. In small doses, stress can be beneficial, to avoid danger or meet a challenging deadline.
 
The military wants people that can handle the stressful environments that are a routine part of many military assignments or deployments. Combat arms units in particular, want troops that handle stress well and that have learned to make good decisions under stressful conditions.
 
Ranger School creates a stressful environment using three primary techniques.
 
1) Academic Stress. The course is demanding academically. participants are evaluated constantly, both while serving in positions of responsibility and authority (as patrol leaders or assistant patrol leaders), and while participating in non-leadership roles.
 
2) Sleep Deprivation. During patrols, Ranger School participants get very little sleep. Sleep is strictly controlled by Ranger Instructors and it is common for students to get less than three hours of sleep per day during patrols.
 
3) Food Deprivation. While in garrison, students are given routine meals, but are forced to eat very quickly and without talking. While on patrol, students are given two MRE meals (approximately 2,200 calories).  While 2,200 calories may sound like plenty, the Army estimates that Ranger students are expending between 6,500 and 9,000 calories per day (driven by exertion, stress, temperature, etc.).

My Experience

I was only eighteen years old with less than two years of active duty experience when I went to Ranger School. I was in excellent physical condition, coming from a Ranger Battalion, but I had very little body fat and was academically unprepared. Years later, the Ranger Regiment implemented a Pre-Ranger course to get young soldiers ready, but at the time that I went there was no real preparation.
 
I handled the sleep deprivation without too much trouble, but the lack of food kicked my butt. I thought about food all the time and I often felt weak and had trouble focusing. In spite of my lack of preparation, I was fortunate to pass all my leadership tasks, making the academic stress less of an event for me.
 
The Ranger School experience was tough, but it improved my self-confidence, made me more resilient, and taught me a lot about leadership and stress management.

What Did I Learn About Stress?

1) Stress can be a positive experience if you know you are experiencing it and you have learned how to manage it. The hormonal response to stress (epinephrine, norepinephrine, and cortisol) can give you focus and energy, resulting in improved performance. Unmanaged stress can have very negative effects.
 
2) Stress doesn't always look the same. When you encounter a person that is under stress, the symptoms are often very different between people. Some people become visibly shaken or angry. Others become quiet and withdrawn.
 
3) Your ability to recognize and manage stress can give you a substantial competitive advantage over those who can't do so.
Stress in Business

How Can We Use These Insights in Business?

1) Recognize that stress is part of running a business. Learn to recognize the symptoms of stress. Don't hide from stress - embrace it. Here are some ways to manage the adverse effects of stress:
 
a) Exercise - Physical activity will help improve your sleep. And better sleep will help with stress management. Don't exercise too close to bedtime and be sure to exercise enough to get your pulse rate up.
 
b) Diet - A good diet can reduce the effects of stress, improve your immune system, stabilize your mood, and lower your blood pressure. Not to mention the benefits for your weight management and overall health.
 
c) Sleep - Stress can cause you to have trouble getting a good night's sleep. And, it can become a vicious cycle - stress causes you to lose sleep and lack of sleep increases your stress.
 
d) Relaxation Therapy - Activities like yoga, meditation, and deep breathing can all help you manage your stress.
 
2) Use stress as a means to focus on the most important tasks and to improve your performance. Focus and mindfulness are the opposite of multitasking. Don't try to do more, try to do less - just be sure that the things you are doing are the most important things.
 
3) Use routines, standard operating procedures, policies, and checklists to ensure that you get everything done efficiently, even though the stress may be putting a dent in your efficiency. When you are stressed, you need to fall back on your routines and tools to ensure that you are getting everything done.

Final Thoughts

As a young Ranger I experienced the stress that Ranger School put on me as a way to learn how to recognize the symptoms of stress and to handle stressful environments and situations. You can use these same skills and techniques in your business roles. The ability to do so will make you a fierce competitor that can prevail when times get tough.

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Mark Hope

Mark A. Hope is the founder and CEO of Asymmetric Marketing – a unique agency specializing in building high-performing sales and marketing systems, campaigns, processes, and strategies for small businesses. Asymmetric has extensive experience with organizations across many industry segments. If you would like some help in implementing ideas like these in this article, feel free to give Mark a call at 866-607-3593 or by email at [email protected]

2 thoughts on “What Army Ranger School Taught Me About Stress”

  1. Thanks Mark, all great observations…one reflection relating to coping with stress and leadership skills:
    RI has the patrol shake a tree so that the temporarily mis-oriented patrol Leader can locate them on his picto-map. Humor is a great stress reliever. And when it is shared it builds the team also.

    1. I forgot about the old “shake a tree and look for it on the map” drill. Funny stuff. And, you are right, humor plays a huge role in managing stress (and enjoying life). Thanks for taking the time to comment.

      Mark

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