Republican Sen. Tom Cotton’s characterization of his military service is drawing scrutiny from critics, including lawmakers who previously served in the U.S. Army.
The junior senator from Arkansas’ service record resurfaced on Saturday after Salon published a story about his past congressional campaign advertisements and statements. According to the report, Cotton and his campaign described Cotton as having “Volunteered to be an Army Ranger,” a term traditionally reserved for soldiers who served with the 75th Ranger Regiment based out of Fort Benning, Georgia.
The 75th Ranger Regiment requires its soldiers to complete its own eight-week selection process. Upon completing the course, soldiers are allowed to wear a distinctive tan beret with their uniform.
Cotton, however, did not serve in the 75th Ranger Regiment. He attended the U.S. Army’s Ranger School, a roughly eight-week leadership course that teaches service members light-infantry tactics. The school is open to volunteers from all of the U.S. military’s branches, including the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps. Ranger School graduates are allowed to affix a “Ranger tab” — a symbol denoting the completion of the course — on their uniforms.
Being a “Ranger” and having earned a Ranger “tab” is often confused due to the similarity of their names. While the distinction is rarely brought up outside of military circles, it has been fiercely debated among veterans and encapsulates the nuances of military titles.
To be clear, serving in the 75th Ranger Regiment or completing the Army’s Ranger School are both significant accomplishments. The vast majority of service members have neither served in a special operations unit nor attended Ranger School, both of which are physically and mentally grueling tasks. Neither are required to be eligible for the other — the only exception being that 75th Ranger Regiment leaders, such as commissioned officers, are required to complete Ranger School.
Cotton’s time in service is also distinct from many service members. He deployed to both Afghanistan and Iraq, and has served in combat units like the 506th Infantry Regiment.
Democratic Rep. Jason Crow of Colorado, a U.S. Army veteran, took note of the debate and remarked on Twitter, “Hey @SenTomCotton, unless you wore one of these berets you shouldn’t be calling yourself a Ranger. Truth matters.”
Crow, who served in the 75th Ranger Regiment, also uploaded a picture of himself wearing the Army’s tan beret.
Cotton’s spokesperson told Insider in an email on Saturday that the congressman had characterized his service appropriately.
“To be clear, as he’s stated many times, Senator Cotton graduated from Ranger School, earned the Ranger Tab, and served a combat tour with the 101st Airborne, not the 75th Ranger Regiment,” communications director Caroline Tabler said.
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