Last week, Brianna “Bri” Strecker, a former coach for the West Point softball team, became the 113th woman to ever complete the U.S. Army’s elite Ranger School.
Strecker played softball for Bridgewater State University (BSU) before becoming a softball coach herself, first at Tufts University where her players had an undefeated season. Strecker told Task and Purpose on Thursday that she began down the path of becoming a soldier after eventually accepting what she called her “dream job” coaching for the U.S. Military Academy.
“I had seen one of the other West Point coaches out recruiting a bunch of times,” she said. “And I remember just thinking in my head, having 100 questions, being like, ‘A military academy? What does that entail?’ And I was so intrigued. I think standards, discipline, all those things have always been a huge part of my coaching philosophy as well, so I was really drawn to the idea of a military academy.”
Strecker, who knew little about the military before taking the West Point coaching position, said she loved having the opportunity to learn about the Army and recruit players that would go on to become leaders in the Army after playing for her team.
“I was just like, this is incredible, and I kept thinking ‘man, I wish I had known about this,’ or I had more knowledge about this when I was making my own decisions as a college athlete,” Strecker told Task and Purpose.
Strecker eventually applied for the Army’s Officer Candidate School (OCS) and began her Army training in September of 2019. Even before she officially branched into her official Army career field, Strecker reportedly had drill sergeants often make comments about her becoming an infantry officer.
Strecker reportedly decided early on that if she did become an infantry officer, she would pursue that career path at one of the highest levels by completing the elite Ranger School.
“The majority of the people I’m leading are men,” she told Task and Purpose. “So I think I knew that if that was a choice I was making, and I think as a leader in general, you have to do the hardest stuff possible if you expect the people working below you or your subordinates to do the hardest stuff possible. I would never have my guys do anything that I was not willing to do myself. And I think that for me was just a non-negotiable.”
Strecker began Ranger School in May and completed the 61-day course just last week.
Ranger School includes three phases, referred to as the “Benning” “Mountain” and “Florida” phases of training. Throughout the course, candidates are challenged both physically and mentally as they learn to plan and execute combat patrols, mountaineering operations, waterborne operations, land navigation and battle drills.
Only about half of Ranger School students are able to complete the course and earn their Ranger tab.
Ranger School students are judged not only by course instructors but by their peers. Because of her status as a woman in Ranger School, Strecker said she felt she had to work that much harder to earn the approval of the peers she trained with.
“If there was something heavy or there was a weapon system that needed to be carried, I wanted to be the one to carry it because I never wanted there to be a reason that somebody would be like, ‘Well, she graduated but she didn’t really pull her weight,’ or, ‘she wasn’t really an asset,'” Strecker told Task and Purpose.
Strecker said her teammates “would always joke with me that I would carry too much because I never wanted to be judged for not carrying enough, or not pulling my weight.”
While her hard work earned the respect of her teammates, Ranger School was not without its challenges for Strecker. Though she passed the first two phases, she had to recycle for the third and final “Florida” phase.
“I was a far better leader in my second Florida phase than I was in my first Florida phase,” Strecker said. “And I actually wouldn’t have changed it for anything because I think I took way more out of that phase than I did the first time through.”
Commenting on her decision to attend Ranger School last year, BSU Men’s Basketball Coach Michael Donovan said he was not surprised to hear Strecker had decided to take on that challenge.
“She came in and attacked Bridgewater,” Donovan said. “She’s one of the most natural leaders I’ve ever been around. I don’t have any doubts she will wear stars on her shoulder one day, she’s that capable, she’s just rock solid.”
Since graduating Ranger School, Strecker has also earned the praise of Sergeant Major of the Army Michael Grinston, who on Thursday tweeted, “We have the greatest NCOs in the world because the greatest Officers in the world empower and support them. #DecideToLead like LT Strecker and join the greatest Squad in the world.”
Strecker responded to Grinston’s praise, tweeting “Surrounded by greatness! Grateful for every opportunity #blessed.”