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Is Senator Tom Cotton an Army Ranger?

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
AP Photo/Danny Johnston

Recent MSM attacks claim Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) is not a Ranger because he did not serve with the 75th Ranger Regiment. As a combat soldier who served more than 42 years in commissioned service, has been a Ranger for more than fifty years and served with the 75th Ranger Regiment, I can tell you that smear of Senator Cotton is false.


Predictably the left-wing Salon, the Washington Post, Rolling Stone, Snopes, and other MSM outlets falsely smeared Sen. Cotton and maligned his exceptional military record. The authors of these articles, only one of which served in the military (USMC) and certainly none Rangers themselves, ignorantly, maliciously, and without understanding Ranger ethos and history falsely defamed a soldier with an exceptional military record.   

Sen. Cotton, after graduating from Harvard Law School and working as an attorney, decided to join the military in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks. He could have taken a direct commission as a captain in the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General Corps, but Cotton chose a more difficult road in which to enlist. Cotton volunteered for Officer Candidate School, attended and graduated from Airborne (paratrooper) School, and then “Tabbed” out, or graduated with Ranger Tab, from Ranger School.  

Cotton served tours as a combat platoon leader in Iraq and Afghanistan, earning the prestigious Combat Infantryman’s Badge and the Bronze Star. Cotton served as a combat platoon leader with the 101st Airborne Division and later with the respected Old Guard of the 3rd Infantry Division at Arlington National Cemetery. A most commendable five-year service with our Army serving in difficult assignments. 

On January 31, 2021, the president of the oldest Ranger association, Travis James West of the U.S. Army Ranger Association, published the following:


"(This) debate most likely originates with the formation of the U.S. Army Ranger School. On March 1, 1952, the Ranger Department graduated its first class from the newly constituted Ranger School at Ft. Benning. Graduates of the Ranger School were assigned to primarily infantry units throughout the Army. At that time, the military did not maintain standing operational Ranger units, the last of which that fought in the Korean War having been inactivated in 1951. In other words, the only “Army Rangers” at that time were individuals who graduated from the schoolhouse and who were not serving in Ranger-designated units. Graduates of the present-day Ranger School continue to serve in units throughout the Army, primarily but not exclusively in combat arms positions. Although the school is not a part of the 75th Ranger Regiment, the Regiment’s officers and non-commissioned officers are required to graduate from it. In other words, achievement of the Ranger Tab is tantamount to a prerequisite for most leadership positions within the Regiment."

As noted by USARA President West and as someone who wore a black Ranger beret and served in the 2nd Battalion of the 75th Ranger (Airborne), I can tell you categorically the journalists who attacked Sen. Cotton’s Ranger status have it exactly backward.  

A number of soldiers are assigned to the 75th Ranger Regiment who are not Ranger qualified. They are then expected to prepare for eight weeks or more to attend Ranger School in the Ranger Assessment and Selection Program (RASP), previously known as Ranger in Preparation (RIP). Once the soldiers have successfully met the standards of these training programs, they are sent to Ranger School. If soldiers do not succeed and receive their coveted Ranger Tab, they are considered to have failed Ranger School. Those soldiers, particularly if they are officers or non-commissioned officers, will be transferred out of the Ranger Regiment.


President West has further elaborated on all those who served as Rangers in combat, attended and graduated from Ranger School.

"The U.S. Army has not historically maintained standing Ranger units. Rather, Rangers units were formed to meet the needs of the Army during specific conflicts, and then disbanded once those needs were no longer perceived to continue. Consider, for example, the Ranger units formed during the Revolutionary War, Civil War, World War II, Korean War, and Vietnam War -- each of which were formed for all or part of the specific conflict and then subsequently disbanded."

Certainly, no one would dare tell a member of the fabled Merrill's Marauders that he is not a Ranger, nor would they consider telling an individual who served in the Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol (LRRP) units of Vietnam that he must now disavow the title of U.S. Army Ranger. None of these MSM authors can lay claim to the title Ranger under any circumstances, yet they seek to use this debate to drive a wedge between members of our community for what appear to be political purposes. 

As President West so eloquently explained, the unwarranted, unjustified and ignorant attacks on Senator Tom Cotton, a U.S. Army Airborne Ranger, are inaccurate and unwarranted on the status of a dedicated patriot. Cotton volunteered for some of the Army's most demanding training, served honorably as a combat leader, and provides to Arkansas and our nation a superlative example of what it means to put your life on the line to serve our country.  That cannot be said of those who have erroneously maligned his Ranger status. 


Bill Wenger is a retired commercial real estate executive and U.S. Army Infantry Airborne Ranger Colonel. He voluntarily served four combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan after initial military retirement. He earned five Master’s Degrees and has taught National Strategic Planning, the Operational Level of Warfare, business and U.S. History.

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