RICHMOND, Va. — Just a few days before graduating from his initial training to become an infantryman, Virginia National Guard Soldier Pfc. Gavin Asbury was offered the chance to go to Ranger School. He’d tried to show initiative during his training, had scored high on his physical fitness assessments and exceeded the standard during his training at Fort Benning. His drill sergeants noticed his success and recommended he, along with a handful of his peers, take their training to the next level and try for a spot at Ranger School.
Asbury grew up in a military family. He said “just about everyone” in his family has served. He knew about Ranger School and he knew the chance to attend wasn’t likely to come around again, so he said yes.
“It was an end goal for me when I first came into the Army,” Asbury said. “I was like, ’Someday I want to go to Ranger School.’ When I got offered that it was kind of cool to achieve that goal so early in my career.”
After graduating from OSUT in August, Asbury went to train at the Fort Benning-based Warrior Training Center. He spent four weeks there as part of the Ranger Team Leader Initiative, a “prep school for Ranger School” dedicated to preparing new graduates of OSUT for Ranger School. Then, he attended the Ranger Training Assessment Course, a two-week pre-Ranger course. Asbury was one of 17 from his training battalion to say yes to the Ranger School opportunity and he was one of just five to make it through the six weeks of RTLI and RTAC.
Then, on Oct. 15, 2018, Asbury started Ranger School.
“Ranger School is one of the toughest training courses for which a Soldier can volunteer,” said Col. E. Scott Smith, the Virginia Army National Guard state operations officer and Ranger School graduate. “Army Rangers are experts in leading Soldiers on difficult missions, and to do this they need rigorous training. For more than two months, Ranger students train to exhaustion, pushing the limits of their minds and bodies.”
Asbury graduated Ranger School Dec. 14, 2018, as first time go.
“Ranger School is as hard as everyone says it is,” Asbury said. “The hard parts are the parts you wouldn’t think are as hard. You’re not doing some crazy super high-speed stuff all the time, you’re actually just doing a lot of the basic infantry skills to a higher degree, constantly, and you’re getting graded a lot harder.”
Smith explained that Ranger School was conceived during the Korean War. It was first known as the Ranger Training Command, then became the Ranger Department, a branch of the U.S. Army’s Infantry School at Fort Benning, in 1951. The purpose then, and now, is to develop the combat skills of selected officers and enlisted Soldiers. The training requires Soldiers to work as “small-unit leaders in a realistic, tactical environment, under mental and physical stress,” just like they’d encounter in actual combat.
After returning home, leaders in the Virginia National Guard recommended him to Command Sgt. Maj. John F. Sampa, the command sergeant major of the Army National Guard, as a possible candidate to represent the entire National Guard during military appreciation night at a Washington Capitals game. Sampa selected Asbury after hearing his story and Asbury attended the game with his mother and younger brother. At the game, he met Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley and Command Sergeant Major of the Army Daniel A. Dailey.
Now, Asbury says, he has to set a new goal. He’s assigned to the the Lynchburg-based 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team and hopes to attend more schools, especially Sniper School. He’s a junior at the Virginia Military Institute and studies mechanical engineering.
For his peers thinking about going to Ranger School he had some simple advice: “No matter how bad it sucks, keep walking, it’ll end eventually.”