Two women have passed the Army Ranger School and will graduate at Fort Benning, Ga., Friday morning, making them the first female soldiers to earn the elite Ranger tab and complete the Army’s most difficult training regimen.
The Army did not identify the two women, who are both graduates of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. A third woman candidate, also a West Point grad, is currently in the mountain phase of Ranger School, the second of three arduous training stages.
“This course has proven that every soldier, regardless of gender, can achieve his or her full potential,” Army Secretary John McHugh said in congratulating the class of 96 new Rangers.
Despite the historic promotions, neither the two female Rangers nor any other women troops will be sent into combat in the immediate future.
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Under a plan announced in January 2013 by then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, the Pentagon has been moving toward allowing women to serve in combat roles, with the first positions scheduled to be announced next year.
Three women became the first to finish the Marine Corps’ combat-training course at Camp Geiger, on Nov. 21, 2013, but that service is still conducting studies to gauge their ability to serve in infantry units.
And the Defense Department is also evaluating whether and under what circumstances to allow women into direct battle.
Along with Navy SEALS, Army Green Berets, Marine Raiders and Delta Force members, Rangers are among the best trained American troops as part of the U.S. Special Operations Command. They are taught to operate on their own or in small units, and in harsh conditions around the world. Many speak multiple languages.
“Every Ranger School graduate has shown the physical and mental toughness to successfully lead organizations at any level,” McHugh said.
In order to become Rangers, candidates must complete a 62-day course that requires them to operate on minimal food and sleep. They train in woodlands at Fort Benning, in mountains outside Dahlonega, Ga., and in coastal swamps at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.
Physical challenges include completing 49 push-ups, 59 sit-ups and a 5-mile run, all within 40 minutes; six chin-ups, swimming and land-navigation tests, a 12-mile foot march in three hours or less, several obstacle courses, four days of mountaineering, three parachute jumps, four air assaults on helicopter, multiple rubber boat movements and 27 days of mock combat patrols.
The two women and 94 men who will become Rangers this week were among 401 soldiers, including 20 women, who started Ranger School on April 19. It was the first Ranger class in Army history to include female candidates.
Two-thirds of that class — 251 men and 17 women — either left or were dropped from the course. Thirty-seven men from the class graduated June 15 because they went straight through the training regimen without having to repeat a phase.
Col. David G. Fivecoat, commander of the Airborne and Ranger Training Brigade based at Fort Benning, has been the officer charged with overseeing the first class to include women. He insisted throughout the process that the difficult standards not be lowered in any way to make it easier for women to pass the course.
“All the women did the exact same thing as their male counterparts,” Fivecoat said during the Florida swamp phase.
One of the 20 women scheduled for the class didn’t start training. The other 19 women reported for the physical assessment and after the first week, which included the 12-mile march carrying a 50-pound rucksack, the number of women was cut to eight.
Those eight female soldiers failed the first patrol phase at Camp Darby on Fort Benning and were offered an opportunity to repeat the phase. All eight failed the Camp Darby patrol phase for a second time in late May.
The Army announced May 29 that five of the eight women were being dropped and the remaining three had accepted an offer to start the course over from the beginning.
Two male soldiers received the same invitation and decided to go home.
Williams, who writes for the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, reported from Columbus. Rosen reported from Washington.