“As an Army captain and Ranger during the Cold War, he led men in our battle against socialism.”

— voice-over in an ad for Bryant “Corky” Messner, GOP candidate running for Senate in New Hampshire, May 2020

“Upon his graduation [from the U.S. Military Academy] in 1979 Corky became an Army Ranger, serving abroad guarding the Berlin Wall during the Cold War.”

— Corky Messner for U.S. Senate website

This fact check has been updated with a correction

Earlier this month, we highlighted how the introductory ad for retired Brig. Gen. Don Bolduc, Messner’s opponent in the GOP primary, misled reporters in New Hampshire into writing he was a member of the famous “horse soldiers” depicted in a Hollywood movie. He was one of the first Special Forces officers in Afghanistan but not part of the 12-man team that rode horses to victory.

But Messner, who has been endorsed by President Trump, has his own problem with how he touts his military credentials. In his ads and on his website, he describes himself as an Army Ranger. That’s an elite unit within the military. As with Bolduc, the media has accepted the claim, describing him as “former Army Ranger Corky Messner.”

Bolduc has sought to make an issue of this. “Unless you served in a Ranger battalion, I think you’re overstretching your claim. I’m Ranger-qualified, and I always stipulate that. I never served in a Ranger battalion,” he said in May.

Confused? So were we. It took some time to get an official statement from the Army. But it turns out Bolduc has a case for a complaint.

The Facts

Simply put, there’s the Ranger School, and there’s the Ranger Regiment, a Special Operations unit. Anyone in the military can attend the Ranger School, whether or not they served in the Ranger Regiment. The Ranger School is an intense 62-day small-unit tactics course for dismounted infantry that only about 40 percent manage to complete. If a soldier makes it through the course, he or she earns the right to wear a uniform “tab” — a small cloth arch — that reads “Ranger.”

Messner graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in 1979 and rose to be a captain before leaving the army in 1984 to go to law school. He completed the Ranger course in the summer of 1977 — before he graduated at U.S. Military Academy, not afterward, as stated on the campaign website — and earned the right to wear the tab, but he was not part of the Ranger Regiment.

(Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said Messner rose to be a lieutenant colonel.)

We posed the question to the Army, starting with the Ranger School at Fort Benning. We explained that a political candidate is running ads saying he is a former Army Ranger, but one of his rivals, also ex-Army, says he can’t be considered a Ranger. Our query was passed up the line until we received this statement from a U.S. Army Special Operations Command spokesperson:

The U.S. Army Ranger Course is the Army's premier leadership school, and falls under Training and Doctrine Command, Fort Eustis, Virginia, and is open to all members of the military, regardless of whether they have served in the 75th Ranger Regiment or completed the Ranger Assessment and Selection Program. A graduate of the U.S. Army Ranger Course is Ranger qualified.
The 75th Ranger Regiment is a special operations unit with the mission to plan and conduct joint special military operations in support of national policies and objectives. The Regiment’s higher headquarters is the U.S. Army Special Operations Command located at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The Regiment is the Army’s largest, joint special operations force. All members of the 75th Ranger Regiment have passed the Ranger Assessment Selection Program 1, 2, or both. Anyone who is serving or has served within the 75th Ranger Regiment is a U.S. Army Ranger.

Translated, that means Messner cannot say he is an Army Ranger, only that he is “Ranger qualified.”

After we contacted the Messner campaign and shared the Army comment, we received a long statement from the candidate:

I served in the US Army until 1984, and during that service, there was never a question about graduates of Army Ranger School being Army Rangers. And during the 36 years since I left the Army, I was never questioned about referring to myself as an Army Ranger. That is, until a few months into my campaign for U.S. Senate.

When I was first asked about this, I was surprised that this was even a question. Nonetheless, I decided to conduct research and wanted to gather as much information as possible to accurately represent my military service. So I contacted the Army Ranger Hall of Fame, spoke to fellow members, and reached out to other Army Rangers. More recently, I received the attached response from the US Army Ranger Association.

My due diligence revealed that I and the majority of Army Rangers did not serve in the Ranger Regiment (in fact, not all Ranger Regiment members are Army Ranger School graduates), yet we are proudly considered Army Rangers due to having graduated from the United States Army Ranger School.

Based upon the statements I have gathered and set forth below, it is clear that even recent retirees of the US Army, and a former commander of the Ranger Regiment, have views different than that of the statement you provided. As for the official statement you provided, one cannot expect to go through life adapting one’s proud military service to the ever-changing designations currently used by the US Army.

I am a proud member of the U.S. Army Ranger Association. Acceptance into the Association is limited to Rangers who have earned the U.S. Army Ranger tab, WWII Rangers, Korean War Rangers, Vietnam War Rangers, all Rangers who participated in Operations Urgent Fury, Just Cause, Desert Storm, Restore Hope, Enduring Freedom, and all Rangers who have served honorably for at least one year in a recognized Ranger unit.

Attached were five statements from a collection of retired generals, colonels and the like saying that anyone who graduated from the Army Ranger course — like Messner — can call themselves an Army Ranger.

We sought further guidance on this issue from retired Army Col. David Fivecoat, who ran the Ranger School from 2014 to 2016. He acknowledged there was debate within the military about who could call themselves a Ranger.

“It’s all a very subtle, nuanced thing within the Army,” he said. “Should he say he was ‘Ranger-qualified’ in his ads? Probably. Maybe.” He noted that the Ranger community is very small, even those who earned the tab. He believed it would be more problematic if Messner specifically said he was part of the 75th Ranger Regiment — and we did not find evidence that is the case.

The Pinocchio Test

Messner is running against one of the first Special Forces officers in Afghanistan and retired at a lower rank. Calling himself an “Army Ranger” appears to be an effort to level the playing field.

Both men are Ranger-qualified. But Bolduc, with his five Bronze Stars and two Purple Hearts, has never felt the need to label himself an Army Ranger.

Messner’s phrasing on his website is especially problematic: “Corky became an Army Ranger, serving abroad guarding the Berlin Wall during the Cold War.” That certainly suggests being in an elite unit, even if the 75th Regiment is not directly mentioned.

The difference between “Ranger qualified” and “Army Ranger” may seem subtle, and certainly Messner has Army colleagues who say there’s little difference. He passed a punishing course. But the Army says he’s not an Army Ranger, and that’s important for voters to understand. Messner earns Two Pinocchios.

Two Pinocchios

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