In a historic first, two women become the first to pass the US Army’s Ranger school

Great job, but be satisfied with your old gig.
Great job, but be satisfied with your old gig.
Image: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque
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Two American female soldiers have officially passed the “swamp phase” of training to graduate the country’s army ranger course, the US military announced today (Aug. 18).

“This course has proven that every Soldier, regardless of gender, can achieve his or her full potential. We owe Soldiers the opportunity to serve successfully in any position where they are qualified and capable, and we continue to look for ways to select, train, and retain the best Soldiers to meet our Nation’s needs,” army secretary John M. McHugh said in a statement.

Nineteen women and 381 men started the the Army’s premier combat leadership course known as the ranger course as Ranger Class 06-15 on April 20. Since then, 94 men have officially completed the swamp phase—which began on Aug. 1 in Eglin Air Force Base, Florida—alongside the two women, who will now go on to graduate and earn the ranger tab.

A graduation ceremony will be held on Aug. 21 at the army base in Fort Benning, Georgia.

The ranger tab unequivocally garners high respect in the American military world—only 3% of US army soldiers have it, according to Christian Science Monitor reporter Anna Mulrine, who covered this year’s ranger training and spoke with National Public Radio on Aug. 16.

But, as NPR’s Mulrine reported, for now the recognition is more symbolic than practical. The women will not be able to serve in the special operations branch of the rangers known as the Ranger Regiment, despite having earned the ranger qualification through the school.

Since 2013, the Pentagon has talked of plans to fully integrate women into front-line and special combat roles, including elite forces such as the army rangers, by 2016. Pentagon top officials are preparing to make final decisions about female combat roles amidst deadlines later this year, the Military Times reported in June.

“It begs the question, why can’t they be Rangers if they can go through this, you know, tremendously demanding 61-day school? The Pentagon has right now a de facto ban on women in combat in place. In January, it kind of flips on its head. And it becomes not, women can’t serve in combat, but they can unless you give us a good reason why they can’t. And that good reason needs to be based on scientific research,” Mulrine told NPR.

Dr. Janine Davidson, a former US air force pilot and commander, said that the changes expected in early 2016 will be “policy catching up with reality.”

“This is not just using the military for social engineering,” said Davidson, a Council on Foreign Relations senior fellow for defense policy, on a conference call. “There are women out there as a battle necessity and people shoulder to shoulder with these women aren’t questioning anymore.”

Davidson noted that seeing a woman perform and meet the same standards as men serves to change perceptions. The barriers are “more social than physical,” she noted.