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Father and son, both active duty officers, graduate Ranger School exactly 35 years apart

It’s been 35 years since Chaplain (Maj.) Charlie Shields earned his Ranger tab as a young private. In the time since, he’s served in some of the Army’s top units.

His achievements include service as a noncommissioned officer in the 75th Ranger Regiment, becoming a long-range surveillance team leader, and returning to the Army as a chaplain in units like the 173rd Airborne Brigade, 7th Special Forces Group, and currently 3rd Special Forces Group at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

But Charlie Shields' proudest achievement isn’t his own.

“I’ve served in the best units in the Army, I’ve done the best jobs in the Army, and I’ve graduated from great schools,” Charlie Shields told Military Times. “But I told my wife, I think I’m prouder of the fact that my son is a second-generation Ranger than of anything I did.”

Second Lt. Seth Shields graduated Ranger School exactly three-and-a-half decades, to the day, after his father. On Nov. 12, Col. Todd Brown, commander of the 75th Ranger Regiment and a personal friend of Charlie Shields, pinned Seth Shields with the same Ranger tab his father had received on Nov. 12, 1985.

Col. Todd Brown pins 2nd Lt. Seth Shields with his father's Ranger tab. (Courtesy of Chaplain (Maj.) Charlie Shields)
Col. Todd Brown pins 2nd Lt. Seth Shields with his father's Ranger tab. (Courtesy of Chaplain (Maj.) Charlie Shields)

Charlie Shields was not able to pin on his son’s tab due to COVID-19 restrictions.

“I didn’t get to pin his tab on him this morning, which was disappointing, but I’m one of however many graduated, either parents or coworkers or friends, who couldn’t,” he said.

Seth Shields graduated from the United States Military Academy June 13. Of the many infantry-branch lieutenants who volunteered to attend Ranger School prior to the Infantry Basic Officer Leader Course, he was one of about 30 selected.

“I grew up watching my dad jump out of airplanes and hanging out with the infantry guys that he worked with, and it really sparked some interest in me,” said Seth Shields. “I drank the KoolAid from a young age, and from the beginning of high school, I knew this is what I wanted to do.”

He began Ranger School on Aug. 24 and would have graduated in October had he not recycled the school’s Darby Phase after a mishap.

“Before he left for Ranger School, I knew the timing, and I knew the graduate dates,” Charlie Shields said, chuckling. “And so, I jokingly said to him, ‘Hey, if you take one for the team, we could have the same graduation date.’”

2nd Lt. Seth Shields takes part in Ranger School training. (Army)
2nd Lt. Seth Shields takes part in Ranger School training. (Army)

In the decades between their graduations, Charlie Shields said there have been a number of changes to the school.

“These fat kids get two MREs a day now,” he joked, adding that he does believe today’s Ranger students carry more weight than when he went through. “There’s plenty of suck left in Ranger School.”

For Seth Shields, the hardest part of Ranger School was the mountain phase. “The elevation gain and loss every day was tough,” he said. “Ranger School as a whole is hard, but mountains 100 npercent lived up to the hype of Ranger School.”

His father had a different experience, attending Ranger School when there was a fourth phase: the desert of Dugway, Utah. “I know that the desert isn’t a part of it anymore, but the desert was just the mountains on steroids,” Charlie Shields said. “There’s a reason why they don’t go to Dugway, Utah, anymore.”

Following Thursday’s graduation ceremony, the father-son duo told Military Times they planned to celebrate over dinner with friends, where Seth Shields would “eat as many calories as humanly possible” to recover from the grueling training.

Seth Shields' Ranger class in 2020, left, and Charlie Shields' class in 1985. (Courtesy of Chaplain (Maj.) Charlie Shields)
Seth Shields' Ranger class in 2020, left, and Charlie Shields' class in 1985. (Courtesy of Chaplain (Maj.) Charlie Shields)

“I love the Army and I love being in the Army, and I’m super proud of my son who’s in the Army,” the elder Shields told Military Times. “I can’t wait to see him surpass and shadow the things that I’ve done.”

Seth Shields will begin IBOLC in January and then move to his first assignment in the 82nd Airborne Division, bringing with him not one, but two Ranger tabs.

“He has his and mine now, so hopefully with a little bit of smiling providence, he’ll pass those two on to his son in about 35 years,” said Charlie Shields.

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