Army Staff Sgt. Jessica Smiley may not have thought that working as an emergency medical technician would help her in Ranger School, but it was the 12 years she spent in the high-stress job that gave her the mental grit to succeed in one of the Army's toughest schools.
"I think the long hours, the sleepless nights and the mental resiliency of seeing such harsh conditions kind of put it in perspective that it was a completely doable task," Smiley told Military.com in a Dec. 17 interview. "One is, it could always be worse and two is, that in the end, I knew I would be able to accomplish it."
Smiley and Sgt. Danielle Farber this week became the first two National Guard soldiers to earn the coveted gold-and-black Ranger Tab at Fort Benning, Georgia after completing the physically and mentally grueling infantry leadership course.
Smiley, a military police soldier from the South Carolina National Guard, applied for Ranger School in February because she wanted to become a better leader for her soldiers while testing the limits of her endurance.
"Knowing that while I was at my lowest, I would be able to coach, teach and mentor them through whatever obstacles they were going through to be able to accomplish the mission," said Smiley, who is on Active Guard Reserve status while working an operations NCO at Training and Doctrine Command's Center for Initial Military Training.
Ranger School is a 61-day course broken into three phases: Benning, Mountain and Florida. Smiley and Farber are now part of a sorority of 43 female soldiers that have completed the course that was reserved for men up until Army opened Ranger School to women in 2015.
"It is a big deal to be the first enlisted females in the National Guard graduating Ranger School. ... It's groundbreaking," Command Sgt. Maj. Russ Vickery, South Carolina National Guard command sergeant major, said in an Army news release.
"We always tell [soldiers] that they can do it. Physical size is not the limitation; it's the amount of heart and soul that a soldier brings."
Neither Smiley nor Farber made it through course without experience setbacks.
Farber, a Pennsylvania National Guard training instructor in the 166th Regional Training Institute Medical Battalion, had been working toward this goal since 2016, when she first tried for the Pennsylvania Ranger/Sapper state assessment program and was not selected, according to the Army release. In 2018, she was selected for the program with 10 other soldiers. A year later, she was on her way to Ranger School.
"Come into it knowing you're going to be doing things that every other male that comes through here has to do," Farber said in the release. "Don't come through here and expect any sort of special treatment because it won't happen."
Smiley had to recycle through the first week, known as the Ranger Assessment Phase, after equipment trouble cost her valuable time on the 12-mile road march event.
"I had an issue with my red-lens headlamp and with the tiedowns I had with my rifle and on my [fighting load carrier]," she said. "I didn't properly check my equipment prior to starting the event; I thought I had enough time to fix the malfunction and continue on, and I essentially got behind on time."
For Smiley, a former Master of Fitness instructor, the mental challenges were far tougher than the physical.
"Physically you can train your body to endure a lot of things, but mentally it's hard to train your mind to accomplish those specific tasks in that specific environment," she said.
Going into Ranger School, Smiley's mindset was to "never have regret or look back and say, 'I should have pushed harder, or I should have done something different,'" she said in the Army release.
"My mindset today is that I did just that," she said. "I gave 100 percent. I did everything that I could, and now here I am."
-- Matthew Cox can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.