First Women Graduate Ranger School, Motivated By 'Future Generations'

Photo: Courtesy of Spc. Nikayla Shodeen/ U.S. Army Photos/
This morning, two women graduated alongside 94 men from Army Ranger school, the first female soldiers to complete the notoriously grueling course. Capt. Kristen Griest and 1st Lt. Shaye Haver received the coveted Ranger tab in a ceremony in Fort Benning, Georgia, finishing what 17 female and a whopping 297 men couldn't.

In a press conference Thursday, Capt. Griest said she felt added pressure to succeed, knowing how much it would affect not just her own career, but those of other women. "I was thinking really of future generations of women, that I would like them to have that opportunity. So I had that pressure on myself,” she said.

The women both also received personal phone calls of congratulation from Defense Secretary Ash Carter. "Clearly these two soldiers are trailblazers, and after all, that's what it means to be a Ranger. Rangers lead the way,” he said at a Pentagon press event Thursday.

What did they have to do to make it to the end? Soldiers in Ranger School have to do exercises in three different environments: swamp, mountains, and woodlands — all while operating on minimal food and sleep. When it comes to physical fitness, the list of requirements is enough to make even the most dedicated fitness fan's muscles ache.

According to an army press release sent to R29, the course includes, "49 push-ups, 59 sit-ups, a 5-mile run in 40 minutes, and six chin-ups; a swim test; a land navigation test; a 12-mile foot march in three hours; several obstacle courses; four days of military mountaineering; three parachute jumps; four air assaults on helicopters; multiple rubber boat movements; and 27 days of mock combat patrols."

While it's a major achievement for the women who want equal opportunities to serve in military units with men, this is only one small step. The Department of Defense lifted the ban on women in combat roles in January 2013 and military leaders have until January 1, 2016 to ask for exceptions. The women who started Ranger School in April did it as part of the Army's look at how to integrate women into more jobs, and the fact that two women finished the course proves that women can meet the standards that already exist. But decisions about how to do that haven't yet been made, and there has been little transparency about how that's supposed to happen.

"All women who successfully complete and graduate from the Ranger course will receive a certificate of completion and be awarded and authorized to wear the Ranger Tab," LTC Jennifer R. Johnson, an Army spokewoman, told us, but they won't be able to apply to serve in Ranger units or jobs.

Women have had some opportunities to serve with elite military teams. Women served with Special Operations soldiers in Afghanistan; the women of Cultural Support Teams helped Special Operations forces who had to communicate with women and families in Afghanistan, and they endured their own harrowing physical training to be allowed to join those teams.

This story was originally published on August 18 and updated on August 21.

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