“We didn’t pick who to sacrifice or who to save. We fought as a family.”
— Senate hopeful John James (R), identified in a television ad released July 29, 2020, as “Army Ranger, Captain”
James lost a race to represent Michigan in the U.S. Senate in 2018 when he challenged Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D). Now he’s trying again, facing off against Sen. Gary Peters (D).
His latest ad, appearing in heavy rotation in Michigan, plays off his military background. He graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in 2004 and served eight years in the Army, including in Iraq.
But, as regular readers of the Fact Checker might suspect, the ad stumbles when it identifies James as an “Army Ranger.”
We looked into this issue a few weeks ago when we examined the case of Bryant “Corky” Messner, a lawyer who is seeking the GOP nomination in the U.S. Senate race in New Hampshire. In his ads and on his website, Messner described himself as an Army Ranger. That’s an elite unit within the military. But Messner and James can’t call themselves Army Rangers.
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, regardless of whether 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.”
We posed the question to the Army, starting with the Ranger School at Fort Benning, Ga. 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 James cannot say he is an Army Ranger, only that he is “Ranger qualified.”
Indeed, presumably, James knows this because the biography on his campaign website says: “After graduating from West Point in 2004, he became a Ranger-qualified aviation officer.”
Yet despite that precise description on the website, the James campaign has used the Army Ranger label in other contexts, as well.
- In a campaign video: “One of the greatest lessons that I learned as a military officer, as a Ranger and as an Apache pilot is that with great might comes responsibility.”
- On his Facebook page: “West Point graduate, combat veteran, Army Ranger/Apache pilot, Detroit businessman, husband, father, Conservative Republican and committed servant leader.”
- On a social media post: “I can guarantee you, no one is going to outwork a combat veteran Ranger on this campaign trail.”
- Another social media post: “An Army Ranger and a Navy SEAL walk into a gun range.”
- And again on social media: “AWESOME Fox and Friends interview where I shared my conservative-outsider message. Support this Army Ranger!”
- In speeches, such as a 2018 appearance with Ted Nugent: “I’m a West Point graduate, I flew Apaches, I’m a Ranger pilot. I understand what it’s like to keep Americans safe because I’ve done it before.”
We sought comment from the James campaign but did not receive a response.
The Pinocchio Test
When we called out Messner, the Fact Checker certainly received lots of email messages — from Army veterans who argued that Ranger-qualified indeed means Ranger and from many other Army vets who were appalled at Messner’s claim. We have no stake in the matter but trust that the Army knows what it is talking about.
Given that James’s website bio makes clear that he understands the distinction between “Ranger” and “Ranger-qualified,” there’s little excuse for the phrasing in this ad or his continual social media references. He earns Two Pinocchios.
Send us facts to check by filling out this form
Sign up for The Fact Checker weekly newsletter
The Fact Checker is a verified signatory to the International Fact-Checking Network code of principles