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Airmen lead the way in last pre-Ranger course

A Ranger Assessment Course student is pushed into a pool as part of the combat water survival portion of RAC, Oct. 2, 2014, in Las Vegas. Before entering the water, students wear blacked out goggles and are spun three times before being blindly pushed into the pool by an instructor. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Christian Clausen)

A Ranger Assessment Course student is pushed into a pool as part of the combat water survival portion of RAC, Oct. 2, 2014, in Las Vegas. Before entering the water, students wear blacked out goggles and are spun three times before being blindly pushed into the pool by an instructor. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Christian Clausen)

Senior Airman Franklin Sloat returns fire with blanks during a simulated enemy ambush during a foot patrol as part of the Ranger Assessment Course Oct. 8, 2014, at Silver Flag Alpha range, Nev. During the foot patrol the students are ambushed and must work as a team to successfully neutralize the threat and prevent friendly casualties. Sloat is a 791st Missile Security Forces Squadron member at Minot Air Force Base, N.D. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Christian Clausen)

Senior Airman Franklin Sloat returns fire with blanks during a simulated enemy ambush during a foot patrol as part of the Ranger Assessment Course Oct. 8, 2014, at Silver Flag Alpha range, Nev. During the foot patrol the students are ambushed and must work as a team to successfully neutralize the threat and prevent friendly casualties. Sloat is a 791st Missile Security Forces Squadron member at Minot Air Force Base, N.D. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Christian Clausen)

Senior Airman Zachary Baldridge carries a fellow Airman back to the rest of the squad during a foot patrol during the Ranger Assessment Course Oct. 8, 2014, at Silver Flag Alpha range, Nev. Students are training for real-life situation during simulated ambushes and must use small unit tactics and work as team to neutralize the threat. Baldridge is a 20th Security Forces Squadron member from Shaw Air Force Base, S.C. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Christian Clausen)

Senior Airman Zachary Baldridge carries a fellow Airman back to the rest of the squad during a foot patrol during the Ranger Assessment Course Oct. 8, 2014, at Silver Flag Alpha range, Nev. Students are training for real-life situation during simulated ambushes and must use small unit tactics and work as team to neutralize the threat. Baldridge is a 20th Security Forces Squadron member from Shaw Air Force Base, S.C. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Christian Clausen)

Ranger Assessment Course students conduct a foot patrol Oct. 10, 2014, at Silver Flag Alpha range, Nev. RAC is the first step for Airmen who want to go to U.S. Army Ranger School. About 80 percent of Airmen who graduate RAC and go to Ranger School complete it and receive the Ranger tab. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Christian Clausen)

Ranger Assessment Course students conduct a foot patrol Oct. 10, 2014, at Silver Flag Alpha range, Nev. RAC is the first step for Airmen who want to go to U.S. Army Ranger School. About 80 percent of Airmen who graduate RAC and go to Ranger School complete it and receive the Ranger tab. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Christian Clausen)

CREECH AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. (AFNS) -- Twenty-one Airmen from around the Air Force were put to the test both physically and mentally in their pursuits to attend the U.S. Army Ranger school during the Ranger Assessment Course (RAC) Oct. 2-16, at Silver Flag Alpha range, Nevada.

The course has existed in Nevada since the early 1980s, and this was the last class at this location.

The RAC is a leadership course designed to prepare Airmen of all Air Force specialty codes for Ranger School. For two weeks, Airmen endure and are evaluated on extreme physical, mental and emotional stress, while coping with demanding conditions, 23 hours a day.

"They're constantly being evaluated and not just by us but by their peers as well," said Lt. Col. Larry Wood, the chief individual mobilization augmentation of security forces for Air Combat Command. "We evaluate how well they lead and how well they follow."

Since 1950, barely 300 Airmen have been Ranger qualified. In order for Airmen to join this exclusive group, they must be able to complete the physical requirements, overcome food and sleep deprivation -- all while performing effectively as leaders and followers. Once they receive their coveted 'go' rating and complete the RAC, they can continue to attend the U.S. Army Ranger School.

On average, only 35-50 percent of participating Airmen complete this course. Students can't actually fail the RAC, but are given the option to quit on their own account.

If they quit, they will not be permitted to attend the course again. However, if students are medically eliminated due to injuries sustained during the course, they will be allowed to return at a later date.

"Typically (students quit) due to lack of preparation," said Master Sgt. Dzajic Martinez, the 99th Ground Combat Training Squadron NCO in charge of operations. "They come out not expecting what they got themselves into, and it's the shock of the sleep and food deprivation and stress that gets them."

The rigorous training course includes an Army Ranger physical assessment test, 12-mile ruck march, land navigation, weapons maintenance and employment, combat water survival, small unit tactics and foot patrols.

"We bombard them with information, we demonstrate it for them, and then expect them to be able to perform it," Wood said.

All of the assessments are challenging, but perhaps the most difficult for the students are the foot patrols. Exhaustion from sleep and food deprivation overwhelms the students as they attempt to navigate map points while undergoing ambushes.

"Patrolling is the hardest (part)," Wood said. "A lot of them have never done these types of patrols before, so it's a very steep learning curve."

While students agreed the patrols were difficult, each had their own reason why the course was challenging.

"The most challenging thing for me, aside from the physical stress, was the mental stress," said Senior Airman Clifford Abner, a 799th Security Forces Squadron member from Creech Air Force Base, Nevada.

Senior Airman Zachary Baldridge from the 20th Security Forces Squadron at Shaw AFB, South Carolina, said the most challenging part for him was being sleep deprived and hungry while performing at 110 percent.

Although a number of students may graduate from the course, not all are given the 'go' rating to attend Ranger School.

During this final class at the Silver Flag Alpha range, 15 out of 21 Airmen graduated with six having earned the opportunity to go Ranger School.

"This class's (attrition rate) was about 20 percent," Wood said. "One quit and the rest were medical drops. This is highly unusual. We have an above 80 percent success rate for Airmen chosen from this course who go on to earn their tab at Ranger School. The ones that don't make it are usually due to medical issues."

To most Airmen who attend this course, the leadership skills are highly beneficial.

"For those who go through, there's no additional pay, but it's not about that," Martinez said. "It's about what you can bring back to your units."

Even though some of the students may not go on to Ranger School, they can take what they have learned back to their wingmen.

"I feel like I've gained a lot of knowledge and experience as far as leadership abilities go," Baldridge said. "We learned a lot of things than definitely can be applied to our home stations and used as tools in our own personal lives as well"

The Airmen who pass the RAC and earn their Ranger tab return to their assigned AFSC and home station.

"Each one who has a Ranger tab is responsible for their core AFSC, but what an Airman brings back from Ranger School is leadership that you cannot teach anywhere else," Wood said.

With the recent change to Air Force Instruction 36-2903, Dress and Personal Appearance, Ranger-qualified Airmen may now wear their tab on their uniforms and more recognition is expected to come.

"We've just designed a special experience identifier that will come out on the 30th of April, 2015, and now we can tag Ranger-qualified individuals and use them where we actually need them," said Chief Master Sgt. Benjamin Del Mar, an Air Force Personnel Center chief of security forces enlisted assignments.