FRANKFORT, Ky –
It is a rare occasion when a new Soldier, fresh from basic training shows up to his unit Ranger and Airborne qualified. It is so rare; it has never before been done in the Kentucky National Guard.
But for the young Pfc. Tristian Hines, of Somerset, Ky., who will be joining the 1-149th Infantry, he was Ranger qualified before he even received his unit’s patch at First Formation July 21, 2022.
“I had no idea it hadn’t been done before,” said Hines. “I just felt like it'd be wrong to waste an opportunity. I wanted to test myself and see if I could handle it.”
Hines was able to go to Ranger School as part of the Ranger Training Leadership Initiative (RTLI) program, a program in which only National Guard Soldiers qualify for. He was the first Kentucky Guardsman to successfully complete the process.
The RTLI is a program where National Guard Soldiers are recruited out of their Infantry or Calvary One Station Unit Training (OSUT). OSUT Soldiers stay with the same class throughout Infantry training. Unlike many other MOS’, Soldiers do not have to move to another installation after BCT to complete AIT.
“We give them a direct pipeline to Ranger school,” said Capt. Josh Neville, Special Projects Officer and commander for the RTLI, ARNG Warrior Training Center at Fort Benning, Ga. “We’ll bring them to RTLI for 28 days and if they graduate, then they’ll go to the Ranger Training Assessment Course (RTAC) and finally on to Ranger school.”
He added that the unique thing about the RTLI is that it is the only direct pipeline to Ranger School right out of OSUT.
Hines was nearing the end of basic when he was approached by some Rangers and felt that it was a path in which he was very interested in taking. When he was presented the opportunity to be in the pipeline, he took it.
“They came out about two months before our OSUT graduation, the cadre that came in was talking to us about Ranger School,” said Hines. “They handed out this pamphlet and one of the things I paid attention to was it said, ‘this isn’t for the weak or faint hearted’ and that just stuck with me because I always pray for motivation and discipline to get to the next goal.”
For Hines, who is a highly motivated Soldier, he credits family examples that gave him strength and the values to never quit.
“I’d say I got it from my dad and brother, just being motivated and just in general being strong,” said Hines. “Going through Ranger school that was one of the times that pushed me hard. I felt like it tested me to see if I was going to stay true to those values. Plus, I was thinking that I haven't even been to my unit yet so they haven't seen my face, I was just a name on paper but since they were putting me through this pipeline, I can't just quit.”
That determination came in handy during his training in which he got recycled during multiple phases. A Soldier in Ranger school gets "recycled" into the next class of Ranger trainees when he or she fails to complete a task successfully in the first or second attempt.
Getting recycled during Ranger school is more common that other schools due to its degree of difficulty. According to Neville, only about 20 percent of Soldiers actually make it completely through without getting recycled at least once.
“I was recycled in Darby Phase once, Mountain Phase once and Florida Phase twice,” said Hines. “The first time I was recycled I told myself to perform harder and to not let the cold temperatures, sleep deprivation and lack of food affect me as much as it had the first time. I knew I needed to be more disciplined and stronger minded.”
During his Mountain Phase, he had to overcome his own mistake of failing to fully check his weapon he had received from another Soldier.
“I was recycled in Mountain Phase because of a "serious observation report" since the weapon system that got passed off to me had a missing component, unfortunately I wasn't the one that lost it and couldn't remember who had given it to me,’ he said. “But it served as a lifelong lesson to check every weapon system for all of the key components before walking away from that person to ensure there was a good handoff”
His next challenge was not his fault but that of his immune system that was out of his control.
“The first Florida Phase I got medically recycled due to contracting the Noro virus where I dealt with a serious illness”, he added. “The next Florida phase,
I failed patrols but then the next class is when I passed everything and graduated.”
No matter the difficulty, Hines never quit and can look back on the lessons he learned to add it to his leadership skillset and be that much better of a Soldier.
His perseverance stuck out to his peers as well as the Ranger cadre, especially Neville, who was able to give him his Ranger tab personally.
“I was fortunate to be able to pin on his Ranger tab” added Neville. “It took him a while, but he never quit! We are incredibly proud of him.”
It was also noticed by those back in Kentucky.
“It’s a big deal to have him make it through the RTLI and Ranger program. For him to be so young and face the struggles that were presented to him, he showed true perseverance to overcome them and finish what he set out to do,” said Sgt. Maj. Brian Spencer, operations officer for the Kentucky National Guard.
As for what it means to Hines to have completed the feat of Ranger school before he even met his unit, his answer is wise beyond his years.
“Just being a Ranger qualified leader. Although I'm a PFC, I still look at it as I need to set the example. It doesn't matter what ranks are around me,” he said. “The fact that I decided to take on this challenge and say that I was going to live by the Ranger creed. I just kind of hold myself to that standard now.”
For more on the Ranger program and RTLI, please follow this link to see Capt. Neville talk about the program. (Ep 33 - Ranger Team Leader Initiative With Capt. Neville - YouTube