FORT BENNING, Ga. -- On average, more than 4,000 Soldiers go through the U.S. Army Ranger School each year. The number of Airmen who have completed the course since its inception in 1950 is only a little over 300.
Of these 300 Ranger-qualified Airmen, 1st Lt. Casey Garner is the first of his kind.
Garner, an air liaison officer (ALO) with the 7th Air Support Operations Squadron at Fort Bliss, Texas, became the first ALO to graduate from Ranger School, completing the rigorous 61-day course at Fort Benning, Georgia.
Wearing the Ranger tab on his shoulder will give Garner an unprecedented advantage among ALOs while working to supply air support to the Army units he will be attached to.
"As an ALO, you work around a lot of Army officers, infantry particularly," Garner said. "If they see that Ranger tab on your shoulder, you have instant credibility. That allows me to take better care of my (joint terminal attack controllers) because it incorporates me into the planning more. It just (earns) me that respect amongst the Army (when) they see that I'm willing to go and put myself through that with my Army brothers."
Garner said he knew it would be a challenge, given the course's 40 to 50 percent completion rate, but his inclination for leadership was a driving force that helped him through the adversities and challenges.
"I had heard about the challenges of the school," Garner said. "I knew it would mentally and physically test me to (my) ultimate limit. I wanted to prove to myself, and prove to the men that I was going to lead that I could acquire that leadership. (I wanted to prove that) I could lead them through the most trying times. My faith really helped me get through, as did my wife, thinking about seeing her (again). A big part was thinking about how I could help the (tactical air control party) community in general once I got back with my tab."
Garner said that being the lone Airmen in a sea of Soldiers was initially an obstacle during the training.
"I was pretty much the only Air Force guy but I was pretty well accepted by my Army brethren," he said. "The most challenging part was learning the operation order process for how you brief your squadron on the upcoming mission. It's a very specific (process). Infantry officers are taught this at a very early stage, and as an Air Force officer I was thrust into that role. I had to learn on the run.
"My squadron really helped me out with the skill sets that I didn't know at that time," Garner continued. "It was a really neat experience bringing that other-branch mentality into it. I was known as 'Air Force,' but I made some really good, lifelong friends."
The course averages 19 hours of training per day, seven days a week. It creates students proficient in tactics and techniques for operations in wooded, mountainous, jungle and swamp environments. In addition to the strenuous training, U.S. Army Lt. Col. Thomas Sager, the 4th Ranger Training Battalion commander, says the emphasis is developing leadership abilities under conditions of mental and emotional stress.
"These men have all learned to be to be technically and tactically sufficient at patrolling, small unit and infantry tactics," Sager said. "Most importantly, they learned about themselves. They learned about their strengths and weaknesses when they were tired, wet, cold and hungry. They will leave here feeling confident in their ability to lead Soldiers in the most difficult and arduous conditions."
Now that it's all said and done, Garner says the endeavor was worth it.
"It feels wonderful," he said. "It feels great to finally be done and to have made it through on the first go. It changes your life once you get the tab. You're a different man, a different person. It's worth all the pain, everything you put your body through is worth it."