From Chicken Soup for the Mother's Soul

My Mother Says . . .

Mother love is the fuel that enables a normal human being to do the impossible.

Marion C. Garretty

After graduating from West Point and gaining a commission in the United States Army, I spent several weeks of summer on leave at my family’s farm in Mystic, Connecticut. One day at dinner I spoke to my parents about my desire to go to Ranger School that coming winter.

I described Ranger School to my parents. The Army sends only its best soldiers to undergo the grueling course. There the men receive just one meal a day, sleep two to three hours a night, and carry rucksacks full of personal and squad equipment on 30-kilometer patrols. They learn to survive behind enemy lines and to conduct raids, ambushes and reconnaissance missions. Usually only one out of three ranger students graduates.

My mother’s reaction to my intentions surprised me. Instead of giving me her immediate support and encouragement, she hesitated. She wanted to know what the possibility was that I would be injured. She asked me to explain again why I wanted to go so much. My mother knew that soldiers had died during ranger training in the past.

I explained that I didn’t have to go to Ranger School. It wasn’t important or necessary for my career as an Army officer. I wanted to go to see if I could do it. Did I have what it took? My mother listened quietly. She didn’t ask me any more questions. I knew how she felt. Or so I thought.

Shortly after that conversation, I left home to attend the Engineer Officer Basic Course (EOBC) at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. After that course I would go on to a construction battalion in Germany. During the second week of EOBC, I attended a briefing on Ranger School. At the conclusion of our briefing, the officer-in-charge broke some news to us that made the odds of becoming rangers seem insurmountable. Out of the 60 second-lieutenants in the room, only six of us would be allowed to attend Ranger School. Over the next three months we would compete in five areas: physical fitness, land navigation, knot tying, swimming and academics. At the end, the top six soldiers would go on to Ranger School.

I called my parents that night. “There’s only a slight chance that I’ll be able to go to Ranger School,” I said, explaining further about the number of people who wanted to go and how many slots were available. I was sure the news would come as a relief to my mother. But it didn’t. In my mother’s eyes, something much more dangerous than Ranger School was now facing me. My dream was getting out of my reach. She moved instinctively to put it back within my grasp.

“You can do it,” she told me. “I know how badly you want to go to Ranger School, and I know you’ll go. You’ll make it. And you’ll graduate.” Her words pushed away my doubts and filled me with strength and resolution.

Over the next three months, the 60 of us “ranger wannabes” competed aggressively. I filled my parents in on my progress as the weeks passed. My mother’s steadfast encouragement continued. She was unmoved by the odds. She kept saying she knew I would make it.

In late October, I was boarding the bus that was taking our class back from a training area. I was running a bit late, so I was the last one to get on. As I climbed the steps, someone from the back shouted, “Hey Whittle, did you get the word?”

I paused at the front of the bus. A crowd of second lieutenants was staring back at me. Somehow I knew it was bad news. And I knew it was about Ranger School. “What?” I asked.

“The commander says that nobody who’s going to a construction battalion will be going to Ranger School,” came the reply. I was crushed. All that work, and now I wasn’t going to go.

I kept my head up and faced the bus, which was completely silent. Everyone was watching to see my reaction. The first thing that came to my mind was Mom’s words. With a grin, I spoke the truth. “Well I guess the commander hasn’t talked to my mother yet, ‘cause my mother says I’m going to Ranger School.” Everyone on the bus burst into laughter.

Word of my unlikely comment quickly spread through the rest of the staff and faculty. A week later, the commander reversed his decision. Evidently he didn’t want to mess with my mother.

The officer-in-charge announced the results of the competition. I had placed sixth. My mother was right. On November 30, 1990, I started Ranger School, and on March 19, 1991, I graduated.

Robert F. Whittle Jr.

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