Time to pull your booger-hooks out of your nasty leather cheerios and listen up you shiftless apes! It’s story time again!
Today’s man in America is not actualized. He sets few goals for himself and follows through on even fewer. This has led to a comfortable society in which teamwork, leadership, and goal-setting are punchlines adorning motivational posters in your nearest office. An office which is far more likely to reward complacency, sycophancy, and the status quo than anything resembling leadership or vision… Most people are aimless fuck-ups who will never do anything of consequence in their lives, let alone create a team of like-minded professionals upon whom one another’s lives depend. Only a tiny fraction of our population will ever wear a uniform or join the profession of arms; and yet this tiny fraction bears the brunt of paying for the freedoms enjoyed by all. The remainder of society who rely on this tiny fraction (currently around .45% of the US citizenry) live an existence without genuine struggle and have rejected the men of character who still do. As such, your average American male lacks the hard, tactical virtues of manhood needed for not only his personal success, but to achieve an organizational goal that betters all those around him oriented on a common purpose. Hell, most dudes nowadays don’t even know how to set goals – let alone develop goals for any sort of team-based venture.
So, in the spirit of un-fucking what 3 generations of bitch-made limp-wrists raised by single mothers and numbed by Adderall has done to the American Republic; I’m going to tell you a story about a better man you should all emulate.
A man who had the audacity, vision, and strength of character needed to create an organization of excellence and will it to fruition. Today’s story is about a man who took command of a brand-new type of army unit as a brand-new Second Lieutenant; shaping it into an archetype of Special Operations forces for generations to come. A man who set the highest standards of himself and then provided the purpose, direction, and motivation to others in order to forge his vision into a battle-hardened fighting force. A man who has received the second-highest award for valor in combat in two different wars and who because of his success was tasked to create the most elite leadership school in the world: The United States Army’s Ranger School.
Today’s story is about the Ranger God himself:
Colonel Ralph Puckett Jr.
Ralph Puckett Jr. was born on December 8th, 1926 in Tifton, Georgia about an hour away from Fort Benning. Growing up in Depression-era Georgia, Ralph made sure he finished school and strove to do his best in everything he did. A distinguished student in high school, he entered Georgia Tech at the age of 16 and enlisted a year later in the US Army Air Corps Reserve (now the Air Force Reserve) where he learned to fly planes. Still too young to go fight in World War Two for much of his college career, he left Georgia Tech to accept an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1945 as it became apparent the war was nearly over. He would do well at the Point, becoming the captain of the school’s Men’s Boxing team and winning numerous awards for his skill in the ring. He graduated West Point with the class of 1949 and spent his initial months attending the basic officer course at Fort Riley, followed by the Infantry Officer Basic Course and Airborne School at Fort Benning. Meanwhile… Some dick-face Stalinist wannabe named Kim Il-Sung was amassing an army in an attempt to unite the peoples of the Korean peninsula under the banner of Juche Communism. On June 25th, 1950 hundreds of thousands of North Korean communists came screaming across the 38th Parallel with tanks and artillery and swept aside the UN defenses, leaving the fate of millions of Koreans hinging on the men holding out in defensive line around the last major port city in UN hands called Pusan.
Brand-new Second Lieutenant Puckett, fresh out of the basic and airborne courses with orders to the (now deactivated) 24th Infantry Division, arrived at Camp Drake, Japan in August of 1950. He was there for a quick in-processing before shipping out to combat with the 24th Infantry Division already engaged in heavy fighting in the small corner of Korea known as the Pusan perimeter. However, while reporting in Lieutenant Puckett was called by-name over the camp loudspeaker to report to the office of Lieutenant Colonel McGee, the head of the 8th Army G3 Miscellaneous Operations Section. This one meeting would change the United States Army forever. LTC McGee told the new Lieutenant standing before him “I’m selecting volunteers for an extremely dangerous mission behind enemy lines.” to which Puckett replied “Sir, I volunteer.” The Lieutenant-Colonel asked him “Don’t you want to know what the mission is?” to which the eager Lieutenant responded “Yes I do sir, but I volunteer.” After a further discussion about what that mission was, Lieutenant Puckett was informed that they would be forming a Company of Rangers in the tradition of the elite World War Two units that had stormed Omaha Beach on D-Day and liberated Cabanatuan Prison Camp in the Pacific – but unfortunately all the Lieutenant’s positions had already been filled. Puckett spoke very directly “Sir, if you will let me be a part of the Rangers, I will take a squad leader’s or a rifleman’s job.” Colonel McGee told the young butterbar to return the next morning at 0900 to get his answer.
Lieutenant Puckett showed up to the office at 0830 the next morning in his sharpest uniform, and probably anxious as shit. He met with Lieutenant Colonel McGee again and was informed that not only would he be admitted to the unit but would serve as its Company Commander – a job typically reserved for a Captain. Lieutenant Puckett – who had zero troop-leading experience fresh out of the basic course and jump school – said a silent prayer: “Please God, don’t let me get a bunch of good guys killed.” He had just become responsible for forming the first US Army Ranger Unit since the end of World War Two and taking it to combat with the battle-hardened communists of the North Korean Army. The 8213th Army Unit as it was officially known, became the ‘8th Army Ranger Company’. They were to become specialists in long range reconnaissance, raiding, and combat patrolling behind enemy line to provide critical intelligence to the Commanders of the US 8th Army in the Korean theater. They would have just seven weeks to get the Company into fighting shape even though very few of the men who had volunteered had any combat experience, including none of the officers. The 8th Army Ranger Company would have to go through a very fast and informal selection process.
Only the fittest men would be chosen as there was no time to train up fatties into fighters. Many of the enlisted men who had volunteered came from non-combat skill specialties since the trained infantrymen were all being rushed to the front immediately to hold the line of the Pusan Perimeter. The men remaining available for the 8th Army Ranger Company were: Supply Clerks, Typists, Cooks, Mechanics, Radio Operators, Engineers, and only a few trained Infantrymen of both enlisted or officer rank. Most had not fired a weapon since basic training. In 7 weeks, Puckett had to turn them – and himself – into combat-ready Rangers.
On August 28th, 1950 the newly-formed Company shipped out for Korea with the 76 men who had been selected to attempt Ranger training. The unit arrived in the Pusan Perimeter and established ‘Ranger Hill’ near what is today Kijang, South Korea. Now Lieutenant Puckett had to set about actualizing his vision for this new unit. His Rangers would be tough, disciplined, trained and proficient in all basic soldierly tasks. He knew that the key to survival in combat would be complete mastery of the basics: physical fitness, marksmanship, land navigation, proficiency with communications equipment, and patrolling tactics. They would train these skills until they could do them in their sleep. There would be no fancy new doctrine to develop. After all, as an accomplished boxer Puckett must’ve known that title bouts are not won with intricately choreographed punch combinations, but with a sage-like devotion to the basics. Jab, straight, hook, uppercut; toughness and the wind to last 10 rounds – that’s what wins a fucking boxing match.
Lieutenant Puckett set the standards and conditions for his men at every step of the way. Every morning they would run at least 5 miles. They would all conduct 20-mile speed marches. Officers would always lead from the front. For 7 weeks men rehearsed machinegun drills, practiced adjusting artillery fire, and executed mock patrols designed to mimic the conditions at the front. There were frequent live-fire exercises and marksmanship was drilled daily until every man could operate every weapons system with his eyes closed. Leaders studied every piece of information they could regarding the training and tactics of the Ranger units of World War Two and built on the experience provided by the few combat veterans available. The men were exhausted and hungry at the end of the day, but their hard work would prove invaluable in combat. To encourage unit cohesion and esprit-de-corps the men all shaved their heads into Mohawks. 60-hour weeks of training for 7 weeks straight had taken a toll on the men. 12 had to be dropped due to failure to meet standards or injury. However, 10 English-speaking South Koreans called KATUSAs (Korean Augmentation to The United States Army) were integrated into the unit, bringing the total manpower of the entire Company to 73 Rangers. The Company was divided into three parts: a HQ section (Really just Puckett and the Company First Sergeant, Charles Pitts) and two platoons. Each Platoon consisted of a Platoon HQ (PL, PSG, 2 Messengers/Runners, and a Platoon Guide), 2 Rifle Squads, and a Heavy Weapons Squad (Armed with 60mm Mortars, M1918 .30 Caliber Machine Guns, and 2 M20 Super-Bazookas) based on the same unit structure used by the Rangers of World War Two. Each Platoon’s best marksman was given a scoped rifle and acted as the Platoon Sniper. Every man was the epitome of discipline and professionalism. Their first test was coming immediately after their training concluded.
On October 14th, 1950 Puckett took his company to link up with the electric strawberries of the 25th Infantry Division near Taejon, South Korea. The breakout of Pusan Perimeter had been a success after the Inchon invasion threatened to cut the North Korean Army off along the 38th Parallel and trap them far behind enemy lines in the South. They hurriedly withdrew back to North Korea as UN forces pursued north from Pusan. The 8th Army Ranger Company would be responsible for leading the push forward for the 25th Infantry Division and the US IX Corps, identifying Communist guerillas and infiltrators that were trying to delay the UN advance to the North. The Rangers excelled at the task and developed a reputation for being proficient and hard fighters who accomplished any mission they were given; even liberating 30 American POW’s from the 8th Cavalry Regiment captured by the Chinese during the battle of Unsan from a small North Korean prison camp. Their finest hour was yet to come.
Mere weeks after their first tastes of combat, the Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party, Mao Zedong ordered an intervention in Korea by the Chinese People’s Army. On October 19, 1950 300,000 Chinese ‘volunteers’ in Chinese Army uniforms, with Chinese Army weapons, led by Chinese People’s Army Generals entered North Korea intent on driving back the UN advance and restoring North Korea as a communist state. They would hit the UN forces like a ton of cheap shitty Chinese bricks. The Chinese intervention was first felt by Korean forces (The Chinese were under strict orders not to engage Americans yet) as the ROK 6th Infantry Division was destroyed near Unsan. The next units hit would be the 8th Cavalry Regiment of the US 1st Cavalry Division, which would see an entire battalion nearly annihilated as the Chinese advance quickly swept away gains made by the Americans and UN forces in North Korea over the next two weeks. On November 25th, as part of the UN counterattack to halt the Chinese, the 8th Army Ranger Company found themselves attacking entrenched Chinese forces on a critical position overlooking the Ch’ongch’on River simply named: ‘Hill 205’.
Tasked to seize the strategic hill the 51 remaining battle-ready Rangers of Puckett’s Company assaulted a Chinese unit of platoon-to-company strength and swiftly drove them out with overwhelming fire and a swift attack uphill. Settling in to their new positions the men immediately entrenched themselves and prepared for the inevitable Chinese counterattack. They were encircled. They were over a mile away from the nearest friendly lines. They had only the ammunition they carried on them. There was no force available to come get them if shit went pear-shaped – and every Ranger on that hill knew it. Then darkness began to fall and every man shifted in his foxhole awaiting the inevitable…
The Chinese attack came swiftly to the sound of bugles and drums. The first wave charged the Rangers only to be beaten back by skillfully directed automatic weapons fire. The second and third waves came soon after, only to also be driven away in turn. Lieutenant Puckett himself directed artillery onto the massing hordes of Chinese soldiers charging up the hill to get them, breaking up several troop concentrations throughout the night to prevent the Rangers from being overrun. However, the Chinese attack on the American line had reached ‘Phase II’ and across the front entire army groups were clashing in desperate battle. This meant that the artillery would not be able to provide support to the Rangers at all times as is was needed elsewhere just as badly. By dawn the Rangers had held out against overwhelming odds throughout the night and were running low on ammunition. The final Chinese attack was coming to swamp them under a human wave and heavy mortar fire from the artillery they had finally moved into position. The Rangers endured 6 increasingly strong human wave attacks. Lieutenant Puckett had been wounded three separate times already from shrapnel and bullet fragments; and as the final wave of over 600 Chinese began storming the hill he ordered his men to ‘fix bayonets’ and sent one last desperate radio call to his higher headquarters: “…It’s too late. Tell Colonel Dolvin we’re being overwhelmed.” Lieutenant Puckett then ordered his men to withdraw off the hill and leave him behind to call a final artillery concentration against the attacking communist heathens as they closed in; first within hand grenade and then within bayonet range. Barely conscious and bleeding heavily Puckett assumed his remaining men would move out down the hill and back to the safety of American lines, but they were not going to leave their Commanding officer behind. Against orders, two Rangers (PFC David Pollock and PFC Bill Walls) would fight off advancing Chinese attempting to capture their Lieutenant in hand-to-hand fighting and evacuate him down the hill. The Rangers remembered their training and refused to leave their Commander behind. Puckett would spend the next 11 months recovering in the hospital from his wounds. He would receive the nation’s second highest award for valor for leading the Rangers’ valiant defense of Hill 205. The Rangers had suffered 10 killed or missing and 31 wounded. 81% of the Company had become casualties.
The 8th Army Ranger Company would serve as the pilot for 15 additional Ranger Companies during the Korean War. They would continue serving on into 1951 performing raids against key enemy positions and conducting reconnaissance behind enemy lines. The 8213th Army Unit would eventually be disbanded and their veterans dispersed to other Ranger units and back home to the US Army Infantry School to become Ranger Instructors to a new generation of warriors. The latter is where Ralph Puckett would find himself soon after leaving the hospital.
Due to his unique experiences training Rangers so early in his career, Captain Puckett was sent to the Infantry School at Fort Benning in order to help reestablish and improve the Ranger Training Course there. He brought with him his vision of his first company and incorporated it into the course. It would begin with an assessment phase to weed out the candidates who did not have the physical fitness to continue. Then it would assess basic skills proficiency and squad maneuvers before moving on to teach advanced patrolling techniques and soldier skills necessary for Ranger to operate at the platoon and company level. All of this would be accomplished while students faced real conditions faced in war time: lack or food, lack of sleep, and lots of hard movements over vast distances in difficult terrain. Ranger School would follow this same format and still does (with some minor changes) to this day. It begins with Ranger Assessment Phase – where the fatbodies and quitters who don’t have the stones to make the course are weeded out – consisting of a Ranger Physical Fitness Test (RPFT; push-ups, sit ups, 5-mile run, and 6 dead-hang pull ups), water confidence course, a timed day/night land navigation course, and a 12-mile speed march with a 50-pound pack. They must execute a 2-mile ‘Buddy Run’ with kit and a weapon within the time standard. Then Rangers must demonstrate proficiency with basic soldier tasks such as employing a Claymore mine and putting a radio into operation during ‘Ranger Stakes’ and execute a challenging mile-long obstacle course called the ‘Darby Queen’. Once candidates are evaluated on squad-level leadership they move on platoon-level advanced patrolling techniques in the Mountain and Swamp phases of the course. Tens of thousands of soldiers, airmen, marines, seamen, and coastguardsmen as well as foreign nationals from dozens of countries have earned the coveted black-and-gold tab that qualifies them as a RANGER and enhanced their ability to lead men into battle.
Colonel Puckett would finish up his time in the Infantry School as an instructor and commander of the Mountain Phase of Ranger School. He would go on to do all sorts of other badass shit. He commanded B and C Teams of the 10th Special Forces Group in Germany during the height of the Soviet threat to Europe. He helped establish the Escuela de Lanceros of the Colombian Army (basically Ranger School for Colombia) as the first Ranger Advisor to the US Army mission in Colombia assisting in that country’s fight against communist guerillas and narco-terrorists. He earned a second Distinguished Service Cross (presented by President Lyndon B. Johnson) for his actions in August of 1967 as the Commander of 2nd Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment with the 101st Airborne Division; in the heroic defense of the American base camp at Chu Lai, Vietnam. His men rallied in a stubborn defiance against an overwhelming NVA force attempting to overrun their position as they had with several other American units in the sector. Then-Lieutenant Colonel Puckett faced the enemy head-on on the front line with his men. “… word of Colonel Puckett’s arrival spread like wildfire. We all stiffened up and felt that nothing bad could happen now because the Ranger was with us.” recalled one of the Five-oh-Deuce’s Rifle Platoon leaders after the battle. His other accomplishments are far too numerous to name. He finally retired from the Army at the rank of Colonel (O-6) in 1971 after over 22 years of active service.
At the time of this writing, Colonel Puckett is 91 years old. He lives in Columbus, GA just outside Fort Benning – the home of his beloved Ranger School and the 3rd Battalion of the 75th Ranger Regiment. He has served for over a decade as the ‘Honorary Colonel of the Regiment’ and was an inaugural inductee in the Ranger Hall of Fame. His exhibit featuring his many exploits during his service, awards, and honors sits in the Ranger Exhibit on the second floor of the National Infantry Museum. Colonel Puckett is still actively engaged in guiding and mentoring the leaders of the organizations he helped create. He is a distinguished guest at many events held by the 75th Ranger Regiment at Fort Benning and is involved with speaking at the various schools for both Officers and Non-Commissioned Officers at that post. He still attends many Ranger School graduations (usually as a guest of honor) and autographs copies of his book: Words for Warriors: A Professional Soldier’s Notebook for the various groups he speaks to.
On a cold and foggy October morning in 2013 a young Ranger Candidate began Ranger School with the RPFT. As he huffed and puffed up and down the hills of the 5-mile run course feeling shitty about himself and the cold weather he saw something. There, at the last mile marker of the 5-mile run stood a man in his mid-80’s, in a light sweater and a ball cap with the black-and-gold Ranger Tab insignia on it – yelling words of encouragement to the hopeful candidates and taking up a light jog with them towards the finish line. “Only a mile left RANGERS! C’mon you can make it! Never quit!”, it was Colonel Puckett; still giving everything he had to ensure the success of the organization he created decades before.
I was that young hopeful Ranger Candidate. He looked me square in the eye and said: “Let’s go Ranger! Push hard! Earn that tab!”
I knew then that I had to make it. The Ranger God himself had issued an edict I could not fail.
I ran my last mile ignoring the burning in my chest and the thought of quitting was permanently banished from my mind for the duration of the course. I earned my tab, and Colonel Puckett was there at the graduation to see me pin it on and welcome me into the ranks of his elite organization.
The moral of today’s (extended) story is that you need to sack the fuck up and aspire to be half the man Colonel Ralph Puckett is. You need to find within yourself the drive to be personally excellent and the motivation to inspire that excellence in others. You have to have vision for yourself and those you lead, then through example and force-of-will bring that vision to fruition. You have to master the basics first: practice self-discipline, build physical fitness, conquer the small battles of life to build the confidence to fight and win the big ones. Whether in the Korean mud on a nameless hill or your bullshit 9-to-5 office job, you need to be excellent in order to bring those around you together to accomplish a shared goal – a goal created to meet your vision for your team. Now go out there and train your mind and your body. No one wants to follow a fat fuck with a sagging ass and a triple-chin. Go out and master the basics of life. Master those hard, tactical virtues of manhood that simpering gimps and deviants want abolished lest they remind them of their own inferiority. Go out and run your race, fight your fight, and train every day to be stranger than you were yesterday. Master yourself and then find like-minded men to bring up to your level as you lead from the front. Hit the gym. Go for a run. Train like you and your buddies’ lives depend on it, because one day it might…
Stop feeling sorry for yourself. Train like Colonel Puckett is watching.
Iron Mike – Gruntworks Contributing Blogger