On Dec. 9, National Guardsman Justin Sekerak graduated from the U.S. Army’s Ranger School in Fort Benning, Ga.
Ranger School is one of the toughest experiences the U.S. Army has to offer. Students at the school endure 61 days of grueling tests among mountains and swamps, going on limited sleep and food while trying to stay focused.
“I can’t really do it justice to sum it up,” Sekerak said. “There’s a lot of things converging to make it difficult: You’re trying to lead people who are in worse shape than you are, and they’re constantly applying stress and pressure. … It wears on you, so that by the end, everyone’s pretty well spent.”
Sekerak, who began his Ranger training at 175 pounds, graduated at 160 pounds. He was well off.
“Some people lost as much as 27 to 30 pounds,” he said.
While the classrooms of Ranger School have little in common with those on Kodiak Island, Sekerak said they aren’t entirely different.
“There were a few tricks I learned in the classroom that carried over,” he said. “If you can get kids to move in the same direction with a common goal … sometimes tired, hungry Rangers can be like the kids.”
Sekerak’s graduation from Ranger School is the culmination of years of effort, said Staff Sgt. Jay Baldwin, commander of Kodiak’s National Guard detachment.
“He’s a local boy, grew up here, joined the National Guard maybe three or four years ago,” Baldwin said.
Two years ago, Sekerak was named the top soldier in the National Guard’s Pacific region. He’s been through airborne school, air assault school and a host of the Army’s other top programs.
“I call him my astronaut,” Baldwin said. “He’s one of the soldiers I’m very proud of.”
Justin’s father, Joe, said Justin began training for Ranger School months before August, when he arrived in Georgia.
“Justin’s pretty much a self-starter. He was training (with) seven-, eight-mile runs every other day, practicing land navigation,” Joe said.
Members of Naval Special Warfare Detatchment Kodiak, which operates the Navy SEALs’ Spruce Cape training facility, also helped out, Joe and Justin said.
“His average pack load was between 60 and 90 pounds. That’s what he had to carry up and down the mountains,” Joe said.
Despite the preparation, Justin said he had some problems when he first arrived in Georgia.
“(I went) from 50 degrees to 90 degrees and 90 percent humidity; I had a tough time at first,” he said.
He was twice marked for extended training periods, as instructors forced him to re-take two parts of the three-part Ranger School. That turned what normally is a two-month course into a four-month ordeal.
“It was frustrating for certain points, because you knew you had to redo things you had already done,” Justin said.
At the same time, other prospective Rangers were being forced to retake the same classes.
“Re-cycling stunk, but it was nice to see that familiar face,” he said.
The camaraderie, coupled with the support of family, friends and his religious faith, helped him pull through, Justin said.
“When I felt like there wasn’t any hope, reading through the Bible in my sleeping bag with my red lens gave me a lot of encouragement,” he said.
The new Ranger intends to return to Kodiak and resume studying at Kodiak College, but he has one stop to make along the way. Today, his sister is joining the Air Force, and he wants to be there. He knows what it takes.
Contact Mirror editor James Brooks at firstname.lastname@example.org.