“There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.” - Paulo Coelho, Brazilian novelist
Capt. Hannah Marie Stolpe, a transportation student in the Captains Career Course at ALU, said she was thinking along those lines some time ago when she considered going to Ranger School – one of the toughest courses in the Army.
“It was always on my mind, ‘what if I fail?’” Stolpe mused as she talked of her journey toward becoming the first female logistician to graduate the legendary program once restricted to male candidates only.
Failure was part of the experience.
“It took me three tries to make it through the Pre-Ranger Course at Fort Campbell (Ky.), and two tries at the actual Ranger School,” she said, making the distinctive tab worn since March 8 on her left shoulder all that harder to overlook.
Stolpe said the lessons learned from the “failures” and the courses themselves are invaluable to her and are things she will pass on to her Soldiers.
“At first, I was hard on myself when I’d fail,” she recalled. “But then I shifted my perspective. It made me realize it’s not really failure, it’s lessons learned. More answers to the test … Ok, that’s a weakness, and now that I know what that weakness is, I can attack it.”
Her tenacity, her unit and her commander served as a support system throughout her attempts to conquer the pre-Ranger course as well as the crawl, walk, run phases of Ranger School.
For the uninitiated of Army schools, branches and skillsets, the Ranger Course is a mentally and physically challenging school that develops functional skills directly related to Soldiers who engage the enemy in close combat and direct fire battle, also known as the front line. A logistics Soldier plans and carries out the movement, supply and maintenance of military forces – a back line activity. Different missions, different mindsets.
Fortunately for the captain, she was in an infantry unit at Fort Campbell, which helped her. “Yes, I might be logistics, but in that unit, we, as logisticians, were still doing ruck marches and going out to the field,” Stolpe said. “Also, attending Ranger School was highly encouraged and many were thrilled to support me in my journey to get through the school.”
Stolpe worked hard to get her prerequisites out of the way and to get into the Pre-Ranger Course at Campbell. The Ranger physical fitness test turned out to be her biggest challenge, even before she got to Ranger School. She would do well on pushups, but fail the 5-mile run, then do well on the run, and fail pushups.
“Every time I failed, I would go back to work, and my boss – the 2nd Brigade commander at the 101st, Col. Joseph Escandon – would say, ‘Alright, try again.’” Stolpe smiled at the memory. “So, I would shave my head again and go back the next iteration, and wouldn’t make it, then come back. Wait once more, then shave my head and try again. I would attack my weaknesses during those waiting months, and eventually I got through the qualification program.”
She said everyone at the Pre-Ranger Course is quite passionate about making sure students are not going into Ranger School blindly. They will all know what to expect during tactics and patrolling and whatever comes next.
“Schools are a great way to set goals in the Army, and help you remain focused,” she pointed out.
She then graciously dropped a tip to help students in general be less fearful of failing any of the demanding schools across the Army.
“You’re not the first person to go through it, so just reach out to those who have attended the course and ask them how to prepare for it. Most people will be like ‘oh, let me tell you how this or that works.’ Don’t just be afraid to fail, learn how to succeed.”
Another big lesson the captain learned from her quest to earn a ranger tab is one that merges both logistics and Ranger together.
“I’ve realized that you really can’t drop the ball, like if you don’t resupply the guys up front,” she said. “I was very hungry at many points in the training, and what if the instructors had said ‘We’re sorry, we don’t have any MREs for you.’ It would not have been a good day.
“It made me realize as a commander, or whatever I do logistics-wise, supporting those guys on the front line, you cannot mess up,” she concluded.
The Ranger Course’s varying exercises in realistic, tactical environments – and the mental and physical stress associated with preparing for those missions – also strengthened her attention to detail and resolve to keep pushing forward, especially when sleep deprived and near starving.
“You had to learn to basically lead a squad or platoon when you were hungry, tired, during bad weather, anything,” Stolpe recalled. “Ultimately, you just forget about those factors and focus on the task, the mission and the Soldiers you are leading. It taught me to put the bad in the back of my mind, not think about it, and focus on what I needed to.”
Capt. Michael Bender, an LC3 instructor, said small unit tactics are not part of the program of instruction at his course, so there was no opportunity for Stolpe to showcase the material she learned from Ranger School, but he believes she is a leader amongst her peers.
“She is a confident briefer who uses a pragmatic approach to solving problems,” he acknowledged. “It’s pretty clear to see the impact Ranger School training had on her.”
Being pragmatic, as well as focusing on the details helped her understand the biggest takeaway from the Ranger experience was teamwork and being there for fellow Soldiers.
“If you see someone struggling, help them out,” she said, “Pay attention to your fellow Soldiers, and work as a team to get through things together.”
How will Ranger training shape what this logistics’ officer does next? The captain said she plans to take those lessons learned and apply them to being a company commander. She believes a Ranger assignment would be the right fit for a second company command, but she’s only looking forward to her first at the moment.
“Going back to serve in that capacity is not off the table. If I were to go back to an infantry brigade, taking charge of a forward support company within an infantry battalion would be very likely,” Stolpe said. “I would be a logistics company commander alongside infantry captains. It’s truly an exciting opportunity that wouldn’t have been possible 10 years ago.”
First Lt. Shaye Haver and Capt. Kristen Griest were the first females to receive their Ranger tabs in August 2015, the same year the Army opened numerous combat arms military occupational specialties to women. Just over 30 women have graduated since then including Sgt. 1st Class Janina Simmons, the first female African-American graduate, who completed the course earlier this year.