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NEWS | March 7, 2023

1-116th NCO named top enlisted graduate at Ranger School​

By Sgt. 1st Class Terra C. Gatti | Virginia National Guard Public Affairs Office

After months of grueling effort, Staff Sgt. Matthew Dawson, a sniper team leader in the Virginia Army National Guard, completed Ranger School, earned the coveted Ranger Tab and was named the enlisted honor graduate for his Ranger School course. Dawson started Ranger School with 328 other Soldiers, graduated as one of 71 to avoid a recycle and was one of only three National Guard Soldiers to graduate with his class of 125 total graduates. Dawson’s father, who earned his own tab in 1990, was there to congratulate his son and pin his tab Jan. 27, 2023, at Fort Benning, Georgia.
“My father is my hero and now to share and be a part of this great brotherhood with him has me lost for words,” Dawson said. His father, Dawson explained, served as an infantry officer for 33 years and completed nine deployments over the course of his career and retired as a lieutenant colonel.
For much of 2022, Dawson was deployed to the Horn of Africa with Task Force Red Dragon. That, he said, set him up for success. Dawson traveled to Fort Benning immediately following his deployment.
“Coming straight out of a deployment and into the course set up the most perfect conditions for me to attend Ranger School. I was already in fantastic shape before leaving,” Dawson said. “Deployments have a funny way of getting oneself into the best shape of their life.”
Dawson started the Ranger Training Assessment Course, or RTAC, Oct. 10, 2022, and started Ranger School right after that. His best advice for Soldiers considering Ranger School is ensuring they’re ready for the Ranger Physical Fitness Assessment which requires Soldiers to knock out 49 push-ups in two minutes or less, 59 sit-ups in two minutes or less, at least six pull-ups and complete a five-mile run in less than 40 minutes.
“There’s too many Soldiers that go to Ranger School and fail in the first couple of hours because they can’t do something as simple as 49 correct push-ups. Get your mind and body healthy first,” Dawson said. “Once you pass those first five days [of the Ranger Assessment Phase], known as RAP week, you’re in the course.”
Dawson said for him, the hardest part wasn’t the lack of sleep or calories, it was the cold.
“Being wet and cold the majority of the time while not being able to escape it played the biggest factor in what we’ll call, ‘being uncomfortable,’” Dawson said. Still, the moments when he was most miserable proved to be some of the moments Dawson said he enjoyed the most. “You really find out what kind of people you’re surrounded by, and boy did I have a great group. Laughing and putting in 100 percent effort goes a long way during the uncomfortable times.”
Among the biggest lessons learned by Dawson during his Ranger School experience was about warning, operation and fragmentary orders, or WARNOs, OPORDS and FRAGOs.
“Not too often do enlisted Soldiers get to plan or even partake in the creation of an Operation Order,” Dawson explained. “The execution of a mission is practically second nature at this point, [but] planning an in-depth OPORD was very foreign to me, and that’s where Ranger School mentored me the most.”
In addition to ensuring a high level of physical fitness, Dawson’s additional Ranger School suggestions are to “absorb as much information as you can from the Ranger Instructors,” and, most importantly, “never give up.”
“Walking across Victory Pond with that tab on your shoulder and having the confidence and knowledge to lead your men into battle, that’s the ultimate goal,” Dawson said. “The United States needs as many competent leaders in its ranks in order to deal with its current future enemies.”

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