by Nick Irving
Immediately after graduating high school, I was sent to Ft. Benning to attend US Army Basic training under the Option 40 contract (US Army Ranger Contract). Before enlisting into the Army, my life long goal was to become a Navy SEAL sniper. My childhood revolved around this dream and joined the Navy Sea Cadet program where they allowed me to go through the baby SEAL program. I was Scuba (Padi) licensed at the age of 16, and could pass the Navy SEAL PT test. As time came near, I went to MEPS, and the medical in processing portion before shipping off to the Navy for basic. The lifelong dream ended fairly quickly for me after the color vision portion of the in processing. It was evident that I was color blind (Red/Green). The only number I could see in the Ishihara test was the one you aren’t supposed to see. Every other page in the book was a mystery to me. A sympathetic nurse next door heard the issue and peaked her head in and waved me to her section. She asked me if I wanted to join the Army and “re-take” the test. While taking the Ishihara test, the nurse traced her finger along the numbers in the book allowing me to call them out. Color vision test passed!
My new contract had the guarantee to try out for the 75th Ranger Regiment. Option 40. I had no idea what a Ranger was at the time, other than seeing the movie Black Hawk Down. The Army informed me that Rangers were just like SEALs, except they don’t swim as much and they were Special Operations. As long as they were Special Operations, it was fine with me and wanted nothing more.
There is a BIG misconception that a Ranger is a Ranger. “I have a Ranger Tab, I’m a Ranger!” Negative! You are Ranger qualified. Not saying that those who graduate Ranger School shouldn’t be proud of their accomplishment, it’s a tough school. That being said, it is just a school. It’s a 62 day leadership school broken up into three phases, Darby, Mountain, and Swamp. The Army, Navy SEALs, Marines, etc., are all allowed to attend this school. The SEAL’s who attend are not Navy SEAL Rangers, they are SEAL’s.
Ranger Battalion is an entirely different entity and in no way is “like Ranger School”. Ranger Battalion is a Special Operations, all male unit, and has been deployed in support of the GWOT since October 2001 (RRD was in Afghanistan only a few weeks after the attacks), continuously,4778 days. The 75th Ranger Regiment has also killed/captured more HVT/enemy than any other Special Operations unit or regular unit in the US military. The 75th may deploy for only 90-120 days at a time, but the operational tempo is extremely high. My deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, we would average 100+ special operation missions over the course of 90 days. A better look at the op tempo, 1st Ranger Battalion conducted more than 900 missions in Afghanistan in one deployment: the battalion successfully captured nearly 1,700 enemy combatants (386 high-value targets) and killed more than 400. The exact opposite of Ranger School. The only way to join the ranks of 75th Ranger Regiment, you must attend the RASP selection. From there, you are granted the right to wear the Ranger scroll. Your selection doesn’t end at this point, at any given time, you may be released from the Battalion failing to meet the standards. During your time in Ranger Battalion, it is your duty to attend Ranger School as well and earn the ranger tab.
My time in Ranger Battalion was by far one of the best experiences in my life. I had the honor to serve with a group of men that I look up to and view as my heroes. Absolutely great men! A life changing experience for me came on a 5 day recon mission I was apart of in 2009 Afghanistan. This mission changed my life in many ways, but if it weren’t for my brothers, I wouldn’t be hear today. I owe these men everything.
This is a picture that I’ve held onto for personal reasons and will continue to hold onto many more. Whenever things seemed to be a little tough, I would refer back to my time in service as a Ranger, and especially the moment this picture was taken.
This picture was captured immediately after my recon/sniper team of 6 men was pinned down for a few hours against an enemy sniper and surrounded in a 360 ambush. At this moment I’m telling my spotter to “go high” and get ready to work. Three of our men shot, 1 was only a couple of feet away from me and another inches away. Close enough to hear the round impact his upper chest and feel the warm spray of blood smack my face while pinned down in a small ravine during a nearby ambush. The water soaked uniforms me and my spotter are seen in in this photo, isn’t just water, it’s also mixed with the blood of two of our men, one who ultimately died of wounds, and is currently recovering in a place we cannot see ( Cpl. Ben Kopp). We all fought hard that day. The majority of the guys had bullet holes in their uniform.
I dream every night and think every day what else I could have done to change the outcome on my end. Call it survivors guilt or whatever, but it’s something….something that I consciously choose to take with me until it’s my time to recover under the dirt. I frequently dream at night telling my spotter, “P…I got less than a mag.” and him informing me that he had to pick and choose targets with less than 10 rounds of .300 Win Mag left. I can still feel his fist bump with me when we thought we were done as we popped smoke and proceeded to bound back to a rescue element from the small hole we were in and backs against the incoming fire and him simply saying, “Let’s do it bro!”
Those are the moments I look back onto when things don’t go as planned, I feel stressed out, etc. The mindset we all had on that day. “Sure, things sucked, we hadn’t slept in 5 days, little food, guys are dying and being shot, yes I’m scarred, I’ve made peace with whatever happens, and yes we’re surrounded. But a Ranger NEVER gives up until his last breath. After his last breath, he sucks one more from his enemy. No matter how bad things are. Take the situation for what it is at the moment, adjust, adapt and overcome. It could always be worse.
NICK IRVING spent six years in the Army’s Special Operations 3rd Ranger Battalion 75th Ranger Regiment, serving from demolitions assaulter to Master Sniper. He was the first African American to serve as a sniper in his battalion and is now the owner of HardShoot, where he trains personnel in the art of long-range shooting, from olympians to members of the Spec Ops community. He lives in San Antonio, Texas. His latest book is The Reaper