Over the past week, an online skirmish over who qualifies to be called an “Army Ranger” once again bubbled to the social media surface, this time spurred by a Salon article calling out Republican Senator Tom Cotton for referring to himself as a Ranger, despite never serving in the 75th Ranger Regiment. Here at Sandboxx News, we work hard to not pick sides in our nation’s politics, so while we won’t discuss Cotton’s claims or those made against him, it seems prudent that we explore the premise behind this latest social media dust-up.
The Tab Vs. Scroll debate
I want to be clear right from the onset here that my military experience was in the U.S. Marine Corps–I never served in the Army, let alone as a Ranger, and although I have some good friends who have earned their seats at the Rangers’ table, I’m speaking from the vantage point of an unbiased outsider.
The debate about who gets to wear the title of Army Ranger really boils down to the difference between those who have completed Army Ranger school, and those who actually served in the 75th Ranger Regiment. The waters around the Ranger title grow even muddier thanks to the Army’s inclusive use of the term and the school that bears its name.
Army Ranger School is a two-month leadership and tactics course that is widely considered to be among the best military leadership training in all of America’s arsenal. Upon completion of the grueling Ranger School, graduates are awarded a Ranger Tab to wear on their uniform that says “Ranger” and denotes the wearer’s successful completion of the program. From there, new Ranger School graduates can go on to fill all sorts of roles within the U.S. Army, as the program itself is available to any qualifying Soldier.
However, the Ranger Tab does not indicate service in the 75th Ranger Regiment, which is the special operations unit commonly thought of when one says “Army Ranger.” In order to earn a place in the Ranger Regiment, you need to complete the Ranger Assessment and Selection Program (RASP). Once you make it through selection, you earn your Ranger Scroll, which denotes your assignment to the special operations unit that has rightfully garnered a great deal of acclaim throughout America’s history.
And therein lies the very basis of the “Tab vs. Scroll” debate: Completing Ranger School means that you are “Ranger qualified,” whereas actually serving in the 75th Ranger Regiment means you’re an Army Ranger (technically speaking). But it still gets even more complicated from there. You can be assigned to the Ranger Regiment after completing RASP, and still never go on to complete Ranger School.
That means you can earn your Ranger Tab without serving in the Ranger Regiment, or you can serve in the Ranger Regiment without ever earning the Ranger Tab… Confused yet?
So who gets to call themselves Army Rangers?
In the minds of many who served in the 75th Ranger Regiment, only an assignment to the storied 75th earns you the right to call yourself an Army Ranger, and all those who completed Ranger School without such an assignment are seen only as “Ranger qualified.” This sentiment can be found elaborated upon in an article originally published in the Havoc Journal in September of 2019 called, “‘The Scroll of Truth’: Having a Tab Doesn’t Make You a Ranger.”
“Sorry everyone, having a Ranger Tab means you went to a school that qualified you to wear a Ranger Tab, it doesn’t make you a Ranger. You have to serve in the Ranger Regiment to be a modern Ranger,” the article reads.
So is it really that simple? Well, like most online debates, it all depends on who you ask, but for the record, even the Army itself seems to be unsure about who gets the right to call themselves “Army Rangers” and who doesn’t.
In a great article dissecting the current political turmoil this debate has stirred up, former Army Ranger and Green Beret turned investigative journalist Jack Murphy points out that selective use of the title seems to be more about form than function. As Murphy points out in the article, senior Army officials as well as many within the media were quick to credit the first female Soldiers to complete Army Ranger school as legitimate Rangers, despite never being assigned to the 75th Ranger Regiment.
Murphy explains that, despite foxholes being dug around the internet on both sides of this debate, the Army’s liberal use of the title, combined with the media’s general confusion regarding the debate itself, will almost certainly mean this fight is a long way from over.
“The Rangers have a rich and colorful history, one that stretches back to the 1600s, well before the birth of the United States itself — but the matter of who gets the honor of calling themselves a Ranger will no doubt be argued in perpetuity.”
So who’s really right?
Rangers truly do lead the way, and on this one, I’m inclined to follow in the footsteps of a number of prominent Rangers, Murphy included, in saying that it ultimately really doesn’t matter. While some may see “Tabbed” Rangers as imposters or “Scrolled” Rangers as the only rightful heir to the Ranger namesake, the debate itself really sort of loses sight of what each of these (admittedly separate) accomplishments really mean.
Graduating from Ranger School and making it in the 75th Ranger Regiment are both incredible accomplishments that any service member should be proud of. The work that goes into earning a Tab or a Scroll are both worthy of the respect of those of us sitting on the sidelines in other branches of service or the civilian sector. The debate is certain to rage on, and many on both sides of it will raise valid points that speak to their own experiences and pride… but from the outside looking in, it may be best to just step aside and let the guys and gals wearing tabs and scrolls duke it out with one another, if they’re so inclined.