Facing multiple setbacks, Army Guard officer conquers Ranger School

Facing multiple setbacks, Army Guard officer conquers Ranger School
Maj. Samantha Domingue, 81st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, poses for a photo with a fellow Ranger School graduate. Domingue is the first female from the Washington National Guard to graduate from the U.S. Army's premier leadership course. Photo credit DVIDS

We all face failure in our lives. It’s what you do after experiencing failure that determines the strength of one’s character.

Maj. Samantha Domingue, 81st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, recently became the first female in the Washington Army National Guard to graduate the U.S. Army’s premier leadership training course – Ranger School, after experiencing multiple setbacks. The 32-year-old cavalry officer has always been a determined soldier and has committed to seeing things through that she sets out to accomplish.

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“I told people before I left that I’m staying until I’m done,” Domingue said. “Either I’m sent home or I’m medically hurt – but I’m staying until I get that tab however long it takes.”

Ranger School is located at Fort Benning, Georgia and is one of the hardest schools that military service members can attend. The 61-day course is designed to train soldiers, as well as members of all the other branches of the military, in small unit tactics and to engage in close combat with our nation’s enemies. Graduates of the course have earned the right to wear the Ranger tab on their uniform.

However, being in the National Guard, Domingue had to attend a pre-Ranger course called RTAC (Ranger Training Assessment Course). The two-week course is designed to prepare soldiers to succeed at Ranger School by making sure they can pass the Ranger Physical Assessment as well as other soldier skills such as patrols, land navigation and troop leading procedures.

Domingue’s first bout with failure happened right away at RTAC. It’s well known that at Ranger School push-ups are graded to a very strict and rigid standard. Domingue had, up until this point, never failed the push-up event in her Army career. That all changed at RTAC.

“I failed the push-ups and they drop you automatically from the course,” she said. “But after talking with my leadership back home and the leaders at the school, I was allowed to be recycled to the next class.” She passed the second time.

After passing RTAC she moved on to Ranger School itself. The first week of Ranger School is the Ranger assessment phase week, also known as “RAP week.” This is the week where students are physically put to the test. Students endure 20-hour days with very little time for sleep and recovery. Historically, one third of the class will fail RAP week. Domingue was one of them.

Facing multiple setbacks, Army Guard officer conquers Ranger School
Maj. Samantha Domingue's platoon stands in formation during their Ranger School graduation ceremony. Domingue is the first female from the Washington National Guard to graduate Ranger School. Photo credit DVIDS

On the fourth day of Ranger School she failed the 12-mile forced ruck march. “I missed the six-mile turn around mark by 30 seconds and I got pulled,” she said. “That was soul crushing.”

And because she is a member of the Guard, she had to go back to RTAC. Though the fact that she already passed RTAC was helpful for her. All she had to do was pass the RAP-week-type events and she was cleared to return to Ranger School. However, she had to wait a month for the next cycle to start because of the Best Ranger Competition – an annual competition held at Fort Benning

She did not want to leave Georgia to head all the way back home because if she did, she knew she wouldn’t come back because she would get dragged back into work and home life. She called back to her unit in Washington and pleaded her case for staying.

“They were totally 100 percent behind me and I’m very grateful for that,” Domingue said.

By now this is her second time starting Ranger School. She passes RAP week and then moves on to the next phase – platoon combat operations at Camp Darby at Fort Benning. During this phase students are instructed on squad and platoon patrolling, tactics, troop leading procedures and other basic battle drills.

Everything started out fine for her during this phase. She said it had been a while since she had operated at the platoon and squad level and that it reinvigorated her to conduct small unit tactics and training.

“But at Darby, low and behold, they told me I was a no-go on patrols and that I was going to be recycled,” she said. “At this point I’m already in Ranger School and I’m just going to stay here until they kick me out.”

She accepted the recycle and then, on her third attempt at Ranger School, completed the course and graduated in July.

“[Ranger School] taught me how to be resilient and that failure is okay as long as you continue,” Domingue said. “That was the biggest teaching point for me.”

Along side her at graduation was Maj. Thomas Haydock, who is assigned to 3rd Battalion, 161st Infantry Regiment. This is significant in that a vast majority of students who attend Ranger School are lower enlisted, junior non-commissioned officers and company grade officers.

“It’s never too late to go to Ranger School,” she said.

She said that wearing the tab doesn’t change anything about her but that she hopes the tab helps her be a better mentor for company grade officers and junior soldiers.