Ranger Candidates Were Killed by Falling Tree During Georgia Storm

Staff Sgt. George L. Taber, 30, was struck by a fallen tree during a weather-induced pause on training at the U.S. Army’s Ranger School.
Staff Sgt. George L. Taber, 30, was struck by a fallen tree during a weather-induced pause on training at the U.S. Army’s Ranger School. (U.S. Army photo)

Two Army Ranger candidates killed during a training exercise on a mountain in north Georgia were hit by a falling tree while sheltering from a storm Tuesday, base officials confirmed Wednesday.

The soldiers were identified as 2nd Lt. Evan Fitzgibbon, whose hometown and age were not released, and Staff Sgt. George Taber, 30, of Florida, according to news releases from the Maneuver Center of Excellence and Fort Benning and the 7th Special Forces Group.

"We are all deeply saddened by the loss of these two outstanding soldiers and send our heartfelt condolences to their families," Maneuver Center of Excellence and Fort Benning Commanding General Maj. Gen. Curtis A. Buzzard said in a statement. "They are in our thoughts and prayers."

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The two were participating in Ranger School's Mountain Phase on Yonah Mountain, about 170 miles northeast of Fort Benning, a base spokesperson confirmed.

The National Weather Service issued a severe thunderstorm warning for the area around the mountain from about 3 p.m. to 3:45 p.m. Tuesday, warning that winds could reach 60 miles per hour and hail could be as big as a quarter.

The training was put on hold because of the weather but, while sheltering, Fitzgibbon, Taber and three other Ranger candidates were hit by a falling tree at about 3:15 p.m., according to the news release. All five were taken to a local hospital, where Fitzgibbon and Taber were later pronounced dead, the release added.

"Those who volunteer to attend Ranger School represent the very best of our military," Airborne and Ranger Training Brigade Commander Col. Christopher C. Hammonds said in a statement. "This loss resonates across our Army and across our nation."

Fitzgibbon was an infantry officer (11A) assigned to the Infantry Basic Officer Leader Course, 199th Leader Brigade, at Fort Benning. He was commissioned in May 2021 at West Point.

Taber was a Special Forces medical sergeant (18D) with the 7th Special Forces Group at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. He enlisted in 2017.

"We are extremely saddened by the loss of Staff Sgt. George Taber. We extend our sincerest condolences to his family, friends and teammates," Col. Kevin Trujillo, 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne) commander, said in a statement. "He was an exemplary soldier and Green Beret and he will be sorely missed."

Fitzgibbon and Taber are the Army's second and third weather-related deaths in Georgia in less than a month. In late July, Sgt. 1st Class Michael D. Clark, a combat surgeon, was killed by a lightning strike during a training exercise at Fort Gordon in Augusta, an incident that also injured nine other soldiers.

-- Rebecca Kheel can be reached at rebecca.kheel@military.com. Follow her on Twitter @reporterkheel.

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