RICHMOND, Va. –
Sgt. Daniel Leikin joined the Virginia Army National Guard in 2020, just a few months after graduating from high school. In the less than four years since then, he’s been busy. He completed his initial training as an infantryman, then Ranger School, deployed with Task Force Red Dragon and then earned himself a stack of badges to go along with his tab, completing both Air Assault and Airborne School, and earning his Expert Infantryman Badge. It’s his most recent accomplishment though, that he’s the proudest of.
“My proudest achievement is becoming a certified Ranger Instructor,” Leikin said, explaining that while attending the U.S. Army’s Ranger School, he learned the basics of infantry squad and platoon tactics. Through his training to become an RI, he learned to master those tactics. Today, he’s an instructor for the Ranger Training Assessment Course at the Army National Guard’s Warrior Training Center at Fort Moore, Georgia.
“Increasing the number of Ranger tabs in the National Guard directly influences unit proficiency and readiness,” Leikin said. “I am proud to be a part of that.”
RTAC is a requirement for Army National Guard Soldiers who want to attend Ranger School. According to the course website, “the purpose of the RTAC is to prepare Soldiers to succeed” at Ranger School. It’s a 14-day course, with the first week designed to mirror the first week of Ranger School, and the second week designed to prepare Soldiers for the rigors of patrol phase. Essentially, RTAC serves to ensure Soldiers are physically and mentally ready for Ranger School, and that their medical and administrative paperwork is in order.
“I am proud when my past students recognize me as their instructor once they have earned their own Ranger tabs,” Leikin said.
Leikin’s journey into the military and his eventual role at the WTC started in high school, when a friend’s plan to start their own military service piqued Leikin’s interest. Plus, as a child of two immigrants from the Soviet Union, Leikin felt a sense of indebtedness.
“The United States game my family opportunities that were previously unavailable,” he explained. “I saw the National Guard as my way to serve, while also paying for college tuition.”
His introduction to the WTC came after he completed infantry training and earned his blue infantry cord. He was provided the opportunity to attend Ranger School through the Ranger Training Leadership Initiative, or RTLI. The initiative serves as a pipeline for National Guard Soldiers to attend Ranger School immediately after completion of One Station Unit Training, or OSUT.
“Throughout my time in the RTLI and RTAC, I was thoroughly impressed by the cadre’s level of professionalism,” Leikin said. He came home after becoming Ranger qualified and, in late 2021, deployed to Africa with the Bedford-based Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team. His original plan was to start college after the deployment, but, one of his team leaders had worked as an RTAC instructor. He talked to Leikin about the opportunity and his experience and, ultimately, Leikin applied and, just two months after returning home, he reported to the WTC.
In just a short amount of time, Leikin has experienced a lot. He’s also learned a lot.
“What makes a successful mission or a significant achievement is your willingness to adapt, to be comfortable with the uncomfortable, and overcome,” he said. His plans have changed over time, and instead of going right to college, he took what he calls, “a less comfortable step” toward full-time military service. He doesn’t regret it.
“There have been many moments in my life and military career where I made mistakes or failed,” Leikin said, explaining that the pressure of those mistakes has, at times, caused him to question his decisions. “But, when I learned to use these less desirable moments as tools for personal development, my goals suddenly came within reach.”
For those Soldiers looking to reach own goals and earn their own Ranger tab, Leikin says preparation is key. He suggests Soldiers come to RTAC ready to exceed the standards of the Ranger Physical Assessment which requires the completion of six chin-ups, 49 push-ups, 59 sit-ups and a five-mile run completed in less than 40 minutes.
“Ranger School is the premier leadership course. Therefore, failing due to a lack of physical strength or tactical prowess is only attributed to the student’s failure to prepare,” Leikin said.
In additional to physical readiness, Leikin says Soldiers should familiarize themselves with Battle Drills, Troop Leading Procedures, and master land navigation.
“To succeed at Ranger School, you must have the knowledge and ability to be an asset to any team,” said Leikin. “At RTAC, my team and I will assess your physical and land navigation abilities and refine your tactical knowledge. The more you attempt to learn and prepare beforehand, the higher your odds of succeeding in Ranger School will be.”