The Rangers at 30
They're our elite fighting force and are still exclusively male but today the Rangers celebrated turning 30, reports Michael Lavery
THE ARMY Rangers turned 30 today, putting on a display of their anti-terror skills.
There may be no Defence Minister right now but VIPs, the media and foreign military dignataries watched as the 100-strong unit proved why its among the most elite special forces unit around.
The Army Ranger Wing (ARW) has come a long way since it was formally established in March 1980.
Among its decorations are tours of duty in the tough terrains of East Timor, Liberia and Chad.
"Their ethos of relentless determination and pursuit of excellence provides the Defence Forces with a very potent, niche Special Forces capacity which is at the very forefront of Ireland's military capability," said army spokesman Commandant Neil Nolan.
The hardwon "Fiannoglach" shoulder flash and olive green berte distinguish Rangers from regular troops. The flash refers to a lineage linking them back to ancient Fianna warriors.
The Army's chief of staff, Lt Gen Dermot Earley, is one of those few entitled to bear the badge.
"Only the most determined, physically able and mentally robust candidates will successfully complete the grueling three-week selection course in order to be accepted for further training with the Special Forces," says Comdt Nolan.
"The course is designed to test the individual's physical ability, determination and capacity to think and perform decisively under pressure," he added.
A mere 15pc of aspirant Rangers will pass selection "to be awarded the coveted Green Beret." Information on the numerical strength of the Army Ranger Wing and the identity of its personnel is restricted but it's known the unit has a fluctuating strength of about 150.
The Herald was the first newspaper allowed full access to the unit, when in 1996 current editor, Stephen Rae and staff photographer Kyran O'Brien joined the Rangers for 72 hours.
"It was an eye-opener. Here was a group of highly motivated and superbly trained troops. They were ready for anything that could be thrown at them," recalls Rae.
Rangers must live within a defined radius of the Curragh Camp, where the unit remains at a high state of readiness for deployment here or overseas, in response to a crisis.
Specialist equipment includes Ford F-350 Special Reconnaissance Vehicles with 12.7mm heavy machine guns and 40mm grenade machine guns, used by the ARW in scouting the Irish area in Chad before the deployment of the first Irish battalion there.
Drawn from the ranks of army, navy and air corps, Rangers carry sophisticated small arms, including FN Minimi para machine guns and SiG P-228 9mm pistols.
Other specialist equipment includes Klepper M13 canoes, Drager LAV-7 underwater "rebreather" equipment -- doesn't give away telltale air bubbles -- as well as parachutes used for high altitude jumps.
Training includes stints with special forces units worldwide, including the US Delta Force and Navy SEALS, as well as Germany's GSG 9, France's GIGN and the Swedish SSG.
During the 1990s the ARW also helped out the garda's ERU in covert operations against the Provisional IRA.
Its members are highly trained in high altitude parachuting, combat diving, boat handling, specialist reconnaissance, explosives, sniping and advanced communications skills.
In its "black" role, the ARW is primarily concerned with skills needed to resolve siege and hostage situations, and undergoes tough training in advanced urban combat, demolitions, specialist combat shooting, VIP protection, surveillance and advanced medical skills.
Women have applied to become Rangers but so far none have successfully completed the six month selection course.
One more boundary to be crossed.