Featured Femme: SSG. Ranelle Skipper, Airborne Soldier

Tell us a little about yourself.

My name is Ranelle Skipper I am from Carencro, Louisiana, I spent the majority of my life there until I joined the United States Army at the age of 24. My relationship with God is very important to me; I pray and meditate several times a day.  I love to travel, spend time with my family, and sorority sisters of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. I am a fashionista, I love to shop, but usually with a budget.  Skating is a big hobby of mines right now!  I am also enrolled as a graduate student at Bowie State University; which is a historically black university, my concentration is Masters of Public Administration.

 What motivates you?

My upbringing motivates me, my mom was a single parent, and I saw how much she sacrificed to make sure that my siblings and I were taken care of.  My grandmother and eldest sister assisted with raising us when my mom went back to school while I was in elementary school. Seeing the sacrifices that the women in my life made for us, made me appreciate everything! I never took anything for granted because I knew how hard they worked to provide a life for us.  Spending time with family members such as my great grandparents also had a profound impact on me.  Dr. George Breaux, my great uncle was the 1st in my family to graduate from college. He was also one of the 1st black students to integrate the University of Louisiana at Lafayette (ULL), which enticed my decision to remain at ULL and graduate.  I like to challenge myself by setting and conquering extraordinary goals.  I come from a family of great people, so I have no choice but to be great!

What contributed to your decision to become an Airborne soldier?

When I joined the service I completed Basic Combat Training followed by Advanced Individual Training (AIT), which is where you are taught your actual job also known as military occupational specialty  (MOS). I received my 1st set of orders to Ft. Bliss, Texas.  I was not interested in going to Ft. Bliss, therefore, I decided to face my fear of heights and apply to Airborne school!  Airborne school is 3 weeks of instruction and training at Ft. Benning, Georgia. During training our jump height was gradually increased from 4ft to 30ft to 1250ft. To graduate from Airborne school, you must complete 5 jumps.  I was nervous throughout the process, but I felt well prepared.

What went through your mind when you took your 1st jump?

I was thinking Lord; I don’t want this to be my last day on Earth!  I quickly recalled safety instructions, especially what NOT to do! I thought about other hurdles that I overcame, and I gave myself a mental pep talk.  I always feel God gives me signs because my assigned number at Airborne school was 87, which is the year I was born.  Obviously my jump was successful, after I did it I knew I could do it again! I loved it!

Describe a typical day as an Airborne soldier on a jump day?

On the day prior to a jump, we conduct practice drills.  The day of the jump we ride to the airfield on base. The riggers who completed our parachutes wait for us to arrive, to hand out our gear for the jump. Being an Airborne soldier you have to fully place your trust in the riggers because they are the ones who make sure our parachutes are 100% safe for us to jump with.  The average jump height is 1,250 ft.  The average time between jumping and landing is less than 30 seconds depending on the weather and weight of the soldier.  Once our equipment is secured properly and our static line is in place, it is almost time to exit the aircraft.  My adrenaline starts rushing when it is time to line up, not in a bad way, but in a way that empowers me! The jumpmaster begins a countdown at 10 minutes out and we repeat it to him. We check the person ahead of us as well. Once we check them we tap their head or side to let them know we checked them and they are good to go. We repeatedly check our static lines in between. Then you hear 1 min, then 30 seconds, then the light turns green, which signals it is time to jump. When you exit, you count to 6 (depending on what aircraft it is) to give your parachute time to fully open.  I keep my hands close to my reserve as a safety precaution. You always want to go against the wind, to prevent a hard fall.  As soon as you see the tree line, this lets you know you are about 100 ft. from the ground.  Every time I land, I check my body to make sure nothing is broken and thank God for a safe landing!

What kind of culture have you experienced as a woman in the military?

Although it’s grown more today, you don’t see too many women. Certain units have more women than others. I was the 1st female enlisted in the office at my first duty station, and I was the only black female in my company at that time. I received different types of welcomes. Leadership was majority male, some of them had not had a female soldier before. Being female did not stop me! They knew I was coming, but they did not know who I was. I felt like I had more experience and maturity than most people did, due to my life and collegiate experiences.  After they saw that I was about business and willing to learn, I started getting a lot of opportunities. One of the Chief Warrant Officers assigned to my section, took me under his wing. He was aware of my educational qualifications, and he helped shape my military career, by assigning me to various tasks and military training schools, which are quite intense. Since then I have completed several courses and obtained MOS specific training certifications. Most of the time, I am the only female or black woman in training or in the classroom.  I make sure they know I am a hard worker and that I am willing to learn the information not only for my career, but for my unit as well. My journey has been good for the most part, but difficult at times. The difficult journeys made me stronger, I never let being a black woman stop me from achieving a goal. I learned some times you can’t get upset in front of people, because you get labeled as an angry black woman…  I had to show the men in my unit that I am not just a girly girl, when they see me they know that is SSG. Skipper, she is about her business and gets things done!  I have experienced good and hard times, and I learned from both of them.

What has been your most satisfying moment?

My military experience has been a great one; I have had so many great experiences that it is hard to pin point one! During my career and in my lifetime, I have overcome so many obstacles.  One of the most recent satisfying moments was obtaining the rank of E6.   As  I prepared for my E6 board I was nervous, I had only been a sergeant for one year, but my senior sponsor told me I had been doing a great job and he believed I was ready to go to the board to obtain the promotion to E6 rank.  As I presented myself to the board, I introduced myself, summarized my accomplishments, and told them what I was here to achieve.  Board members asked me to perform several tasks and answer questions. I did them all to the best of my ability, because I knew what was on the line.  I left the board feeling confident, because I knew I gave it my all! After meeting with the board my sponsor informed me that the board members spoke highly of me prior to meeting me, because my reputation preceded me.  On that day, I was awarded the promotion of E6 rank!  I had the opportunity to speak to a board member afterwards and he confirmed what my senior sponsor said, which was that my reputation preceded me and all board members were in agreement on my promotion to E6.  This is my testimony; I embrace who I am as a soldier and made people realize that I am a great asset to our unit! (Shortly after this interview Ranelle was promoted to the rank of Staff Sergeant [SSG.])

What advice would you give to a woman who aspired to be an Airborne soldier?

Don’t scare yourself, or put boundaries on yourself, because the possibilities are unlimited! I had a fear of heights, but when I realized I was going to Ft. Bliss I got over my fear of heights very quickly. I am honored and privileged to be a female Airborne soldier, wearing the uniform with my maroon beret gives me a sense of pride!

What is your most memorable moment as an Airborne soldier?

One of my most memorable moments as an Airborne soldier is the Gold Star Ceremony that honors fallen soldiers of 5th SFG(A), which is known as a Special Forces green beret unit.  Each of the fallen soldiers at 5th SFG(A) has their own memorial tree, creating a memorial site.  Family members of the fallen soldiers come every year for this memorial ceremony; it is really a beautiful and heartfelt event.  Every year there are 2 black hawks that fly over us.  As I stand there with the black hawks flying over us a tingly feeling of pride and honor comes over me, making me proud to serve my country. The family members have pride, knowing their loved ones sacrificed their lives for others! It is a beautiful ceremony and a beautiful time.  I am of the belief that it is never about me, but more so how I can help my country and my team.  The pride and joy I get from serving is like no other, I am privileged and  honored to serve my country!


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