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Philippine Scout Rangers – One of the worlds’ deadliest special elite forces

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The Philippine Scout Rangers are considered to be one of the world’s most elite military groups, highly trained to strike hard and fast within enemy lines. Officially titled the First Scout Ranger Regimen, this is a tactical unit under the Philippine Army Special Operations Command that was created to infiltrate and destroy the many guerrilla groups within the archipelago.
A country with a long, bloody history of war, the Philippines has always found itself fighting both outside and inside forces. The sudden rise of the Hukbalahap (Anti-Japanese) guerrilla army during World War II brought about the need to form the Scout Rangers in 1950. The idea was to create small military units that could quickly go in and out of enemy territory, inflicting damage as needed, without necessarily expending a lot of resources.

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Over the years, the Scout Rangers have earned the reputation of being some of the fiercest anti-guerrilla fighters. They have been called time and again by the government to conduct raids, ambushes, rescue and escape missions, even sabotage. The Scout Rangers are trained to operate in the dense jungle terrain common in the Philippines. They travel light and move quickly, using helicopters to get to and hit their targeted battle zones.

“We evaluate our targets, we analyze, we discuss who among them needs elimination,” Col. Eduardo Davalan, Regiment Commander of the First Scout Ranger Regiment says. Capt. Marx Luther Rosario, G7 of the First Scout Ranger Regiment adds that, “The Scout Rangers go deep behind enemy lines with just small teams – as little as 7 men.”
Extremely skilled in unconventional jungle warfare, the Scout Rangers were modelled after the Alamo Scouts and the US Army Rangers – both legendary military units.

Making The Grade

But what does it take to become a part of this elite fighting squad? A look behind the scenes at the Scout Ranger Training School at Camp Tecson, San Miguel, Bulacan in the Northern Philippines tells us.

To become a full-fledged Scout Ranger, a recruit must undergo 24 weeks of brutal training that will push his physical, mental and psychological capacities. After passing a series of punishing tests, the final requirement for graduation is the ultimate test: a live mission against existing guerrilla groups. If a recruit makes it out alive, he is awarded the coveted Tabak patch – the official Scout Ranger badge that is also a testament to a recruit’s survival skills and military training.
Capt. Rosario explains the Scout Rangers Tabak insignia, saying, “The red border signifies blood, sweat and tears shed by every ranger during his course. The sword symbolizes our special unit capability and the words ‘We Strike’ symbolizes our capability to go anywhere – anyplace at any time.”
Many recruits don’t make the course. Before graduation, any class will see some 40% of their numbers drop, mostly from sheer physical exhaustion but also from failure to pass any one of the examinations given to them. In the First Scout Ranger class only 72 out of 112 graduated.


The Scout Rangers’ intensive training course begins with Reception Day. A class of 206 volunteers stands at attention. All recruits are trained soldiers from other army regiments. They will be stripped of their respective ranks; the number rule in the camp is that every man is equal. The recruits start their first day with five hours of continuous, grueling physical exercises. They begin a steady run in full military gear. The instructors will try to break as many of them as they can, but they’re not the only aggressors. The intense heat is an even bigger problem, claiming one recruit just ten minutes into the march. Four more recruits succumb to heat exhaustion, and have to be taken away by an ambulance for immediate medical attention.

Heat exhaustion is no joke. If a victim is left unattended for too long, it turns into potentially fatal heat stroke. The second run begins, and more recruits drop by the roadside. Instructors and medical personnel rush to the fallen men, who are dizzy, vomiting, and in extreme cases, unconscious and losing motor function control. Recruits are allowed only 72 hours of medical grace throughout the entire course. If they use up all these hours, they fail. One of the oldest recruits, aged 32, has survived the runs. He says that it has been his ambition to become a Scout Ranger, but he’s not sure if he’s going to survive the course.

Another fellow survivor is more optimistic. “If I really want to achieve something, I must be determined and want it with all my heart,” he says.
Reception Day continues. The recruits crawl through mud and grass, and participate in synchronized drills. The day finally draws to a close, but with it comes the most difficult tradition: recruits must swallow mouthfuls of raw, chopped-up chili peppers, and take a swig of chili juice. Clearly, the unfit or unwilling have no place in this unit. If they pass this massive test of gag reflexes, recruits can rest – for now.

For some of the new recruits, the realization of what they have to endure sinks in. “I don’t know at which point my body gave up, but I knew I couldn’t take it anymore,” one recruit says. As the first day ends, 35 men have quit, leaving 171. And it’s just the beginning.

Thinning The Ranks

Fast forward seven weeks into training, and the number of dropouts has increased to 53. Capt. Rosario notes that, “Those who fail to graduate have one thing in common: they easily give up. The battle hasn’t been won yet, they already doubt themselves. Once you doubt yourself, definitely you will not finish the course.” In the second month, recruits are faced with a challenge from up high: rappelling from a 45-foot tall tower. Scout Rangers pride themselves on their abilities to conduct quick infiltration and extraction, often from helicopters into dense foliage and rough terrain. Rappelling is a vital skill; the recruits must come to terms with hanging a hundred feet in the air while under fire, as it could mean the difference between life and death in later missions.

There are four types of rappelling the recruits must complete: seat hip, lizard, rundown and heli. The catch is that they are to do these exercises while fully armed, a difficult feat for some as the weight of the gun gets in the way of descent. Seat hip rappelling is mainly used for mountain evacuations, while lizard rappelling is useful in clearing rooms with hostages in them.
Next comes the “Slide for Life,” a 200-meter flying fox the Scout Rangers use for crossing rivers. The recruits must hold on to the pulley, no harnesses, and make it across the river. In real life, the slightest error could mean death.

The recruits also undergo extreme amphibious training to make sure their swimming skills are good enough in combat duty. In full combat gear weighing 30 kgs, the recruits are blindfolded and thrown into the river. They are then made to tread water for 30 minutes in a small area. Since freshwater has less density than saltwater, this makes the task even more tiring. Towards the end of the drill, instructors jump in to try and take down the recruits. Those who are quickly overpowered must repeat the exercise.

Marksmanship – one of the most important skills a Scout Ranger must possess – is tested to the extreme. Proper positioning, breathing, aiming and correct trigger pressing are examined in five sets: zeroing, endurance firing, record firing, sneaker course and the confidence test. The last one is nerve-wracking and extremely dangerous, as recruits must shoot two bags of colored water from a distance of 25 meters, using an M16A1 rifle with 5.56-calibre rounds. There’s a catch – a teammate is holding the bags. Missing by even the smallest margin means wounding or worse, killing a fellow recruit. It is a test of accuracy and ultimately, of trust.

The heliborne training phase comes next. When landing into hostile territory, a helicopter makes a large target, so it is important that the men are able to land quickly and safely before the helicopter gets hit. The initial deployment exercise is a 10-foot jump, where the recruits get off the helicopter then disperse. Also in this training phase is heli-rappelling, where the recruits must now apply what they had learned during their rappelling practices. TSG Tunku Timog, the Jum Master, says “Heli-rappelling is used during infiltration where the aircraft cannot go any lower and touch the ground.”
The recruits must descend from 50, 70 and 80-foot drops on ropes, without harnesses. As the drops get higher, the winds grow stronger, making the descent more difficult to manage. One recruit rappels down too fast, and instructors have to run to catch him to prevent any broken bones.

Hell Week

As week 9 of training approaches, only 153 remain. They are now entering “Hell Week,” a week of extreme tests requiring everything the recruits have learned. Capt. Mark Steve Cimini, Course Director of the Scout Ranger Training School describes the ordeal. “For the next six days, there will be no rest for them. We push the students to the edge, testing their stamina, confidence, psychological toughness. As the days go by, the tests get tougher.” Should the recruits fail one part of this week’s exercises, they will have to join the next class or return to their mother unit.
Hell Week begins with a land navigation exam, where recruits have to use navigation charts to get to any 5 of 24 targets. They must complete the 12-km route in 4 hours; and no two charts are alike. Answer sheets to prove they had reached their targets are provided then checked when they return. In a funny twist, one recruit was unable to submit his answer sheet, claiming that a cow had eaten it. At the end, 20 recruits failed.

The remaining 133 recruits are not allowed to sleep. They practice martial arts all night long, and in the morning, must complete the water confidence exam. The recruits, donning full gear and boots, must swim across a lake then go down the Slide for Life. 16 don’t make it, leaving 116.
“We’re fighting exhaustion, sleeplessness. We have to really strengthen our mentality and stamina to survive,” a recruit shares. “I miss my wife and children, but I hope they understand why I’m doing this.” Another recruit puts it more pragmatically, “We have to think that we can do this. Otherwise, everything we’ve been through these past two months will have been for nothing.”

The recruits are now supposed to begin a 24-km rucksack march, carrying 35 kgs of gear on their backs. With no sleep in over 100 hours, it’s more difficult than before. When the recruits reach their destination, they are surprised by the sound of sudden gunfire. In a sudden turn, they are now to commence the most brutal part of their training: escape and evasion, a terrifying simulation of what happens should they be caught by the enemy. The recruits are blindfolded and held captive, treated as prisoners of war and subjected to various forms of torture in 17 hours – a reality that they must face should they go into battle soon. Capt. Cimini clarifies, “We don’t do this to traumatize our recruits. We do this to remind them to never get caught by the enemy because the enemy will show no mercy on them and eventually, they’ll be killed.”

What happens during capture is kept top secret. One recruit says that, “I’d rather be dead than captured,” after the ordeal. Another recruit stresses, “I think your loyalty to your country is really being tested, you will realize or you will give information to the enemy once you experience pain. It was really one of the worst, if not the worst experience of my life.”
Into week 16 of the training, 114 out of 206 recruits remain. They now face their final test mission: a 17-km platoon run in the dark within 2 hours, wearing 18 kg packs. Some of the recruits have heavier loads, as they pack ammunition with them. It’s a team effort; if one member gets left behind, the entire platoon fails. The recruits are divided into four platoons. Midway through the run, some team members lag behind and show signs of fatigue. The others immediately take their baggage to make up for the slack, and put the slower runners ahead. “As classmates, we really do our best to help each other, to maintain our strength and to graduate eventually, someday,” one platoon leader relates.

The final run being successfully completed, the recruits can now celebrate. They are nearing the end of the course. Meanwhile, the class ahead of them has just returned from their real-life mission. The 89 members of that unit had undergone one of the longest test missions in Scout Ranger history: 2 months in Eastern Mindanao to rescue five army personnel who had been abducted. During the encounter, one of their own had been killed.


The 114 recruits prepare to go on their own mission, in the hopes that they all make it back for graduation. Their rigorous training might be over soon, but their fight is not. Once they become Scout Rangers, they will face the deadly insurgent groups of Mindanao, communist rebels and others in real-life situations that might cost them their lives. Despite everything they’ve been through, the recruits are happy at the prospect of serving their country. One of the recruits sums up his time in the course, and his purpose for joining this special military unit. “Here in Scout Ranger Training School, they’re not just training soldiers to become rangers, but rangers to become heroes.”

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