Army opens Ranger School to women, a historic leap toward equality

The Army is now inviting women to join Ranger School, the proving ground for its elite force. It's a 'promising development' toward equality for male and female soldiers.

Mark Humphrey/AP/File
Female soldiers from 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, train on a firing range while testing new body armor in Fort Campbell, Ky., in preparation for their deployment to Afghanistan in this file photo. Women can now apply to begin training with the Army Rangers.

For the first time, women are being invited to apply for training with the Rangers, the elite group that the Army considers its “premier direct-action raid force.”

At this point, women will not be allowed to join the Rangers even if they complete the course; the ban on women in combat still holds. But that ban is slated to be lifted no later than January 2016, potentially opening the Rangers – and other combat roles – to qualified women. 

In the meantime, the move to open Ranger School to women is another significant step toward erasing the historic discrepancies that have prevented women from moving up the chain of command and contributed to a perception that women were second-class soldiers.

“I definitely see it as a promising development,” says retired Col. Ellen Haring, an advocate for women in combat.

The Ranger School sees itself as “is one of the toughest training courses for which a soldier can volunteer,” the school's website says. For more than two months, “Ranger students train to exhaustion, pushing the limits of their minds and bodies.”

After three weeks of extreme physical training, students are then sent into the mountains for another three weeks, where they must battle tough terrain, exhaustion, and sleep deprivation. 

The final phase of training takes place in a Florida swamp, where students learn small-boat operations, among other things, including how to operate in a jungle in a “combat environment against a well-trained, sophisticated enemy,” the website says.

Troops must be “lethal” and “agile.”

In the past, female troops have been attached to Ranger regiments, serving as cultural advisers in Afghanistan. So the fact that, even now, women can't be Rangers, is “frustrating,” Ms. Haring says. “They’ve been wounded and killed while operating with those teams.”

But the opening of the school to women is an important step. Women who successfully complete the course will be awarded the Ranger tab.

“In the Army, it’s all about the patches,” says Greg Jacobs, who served as a Marine and is now the policy director at the Service Women’s Action Network in Washington.

“When someone walks up to you in an Army uniform, they’re wearing their entire career, if you know what you’re looking for. The person is basically wearing their credibility as a soldier,” he adds.

For women to have the opportunity to earn a Ranger tab “is an important thing in terms of establishing credibility as a soldier – and if she has it, it says a lot about her ability.”

Many men who complete the course never go on to serve as Rangers. From the Army’s perspective, it’s a leadership school to develop skills that are crucial to small-unit operations.

Women who are interested have until Dec. 1 to apply and cannot be pregnant. “Female volunteers will be administered a pregnancy test during in-processing,” the call for applications notes. “Positive tests will result in disenrollment.”

The Army is also calling for female soldiers to apply as observers and advisers for the women going through Ranger School for the first time.

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