By Air Force Airman 1st Class Brigitte N. Brantley-Sisk
23rd Wing Public Affairs
FORT BENNING, Ga., May 11, 2011 – The course began with 404 students. After 61 days of fast-paced, stressful situations that pushed the students’ physical and mental limits, only 191 remained and just one graduate would be an airman.
Airman 1st Class Matthew Garner, a member of the 823rd Base Defense Squadron at Moody Air Force Base, Ga., is one of the fewer than 300 Air Force members to have completed Army Ranger School training conducted here and to earn the coveted Ranger’s tab since the school opened in the 1950s.
"I wanted to become a Ranger to find out what my limits were," said Garner, who graduated Ranger School April 29. "Completing the course helped me realize there were no limits. The course is designed to help you find out who you really are. You're tired and hungry, and surrounded by chaos and confusion in the worst of conditions, but you still have to overcome adversity and get the job done."
Garner was chosen to fill one of just six slots allocated to the Air Force each year for the Ranger School course.
The students were isolated during the nine weeks of the course as they learned the necessary combat skills to qualify for the Ranger tab.
"We were allowed [to receive] mail during most parts of the course, and that was definitely a morale booster," Garner said. "What really helped each person get through the training was their team. It takes a lot of individual effort, but nobody earns the Ranger tab on their own. If someone was having a particularly rough day, the teammates would help support them."
To bolster the team concept, he said, none of the students wore rank insignia.
The Ranger School provides instruction in demolitions, mountaineering, leading a platoon-sized patrol, combat arms proficiency, land navigation, and water survival.
Ranger training is conducted in different environments, including mountains and a coastal swamp. Each phase tests the students' commitment and stamina as they endure severe weather, hunger, and mental, physical and emotional stress.
"Because I went through the Air Force pre-Ranger course, I felt like I had really been set up for success," Garner said. "Overall, I put about 10 months of intense training into earning my Ranger tab."
Garner said he credits two people with helping him the most during the preparation process: his father, Don Garner, and Air Force Staff Sgt. Seth Hunter.
"We're very proud of him for serving his country and accomplishing something like this," Garner’s father said. "Even as a young man, he was always into exercising and doing things that weren't expected of him.”
"My father helped me develop the mental fortitude to drive forward and never quit," Garner said. "He was like a personal coach and gave me some memorable 'don't quit' talking sessions. During the Ranger course, the temptation to quit is always there, so that really helped."
Garner also credited Hunter for his success, noting Hunter, too, is a Ranger School graduate.
"I graduated from Ranger school in October 2010 and then helped assess Airman Garner during his pre-Ranger course late last year," said Hunter, who possesses sharpshooter and sniper skills. "We spent a lot of time training and preparing for this, and I'm super proud of him.
Only 30 percent of Ranger School students make it through the entire course without being recycled, Hunter said.
"His graduation is an outstanding accomplishment, especially for someone his age,” Hunter said. “The leadership and combat skills he's gained during Ranger School will be very beneficial to his unit."
The graduation included a Ranger skills demonstration, which showcases rappelling, demolitions, extraction by helicopter and hand-to-hand combat abilities.
Garner is scheduled to attend the U.S. Army Airborne School this month to become an Airborne Ranger.