In a historic first, five women qualify for Army Ranger School

The Army opened its prestigious Army Ranger School to women last autumn. Now, five women have qualified and more could be on the way. But even if they pass, they still can't serve as Rangers – yet.

Patrick A. Albright/US ARMY/AP
1st. Lt. Alessandra Kirby negotiates the Darby Obstacle Course at Fort Benning, Ga., during the Ranger Assessment in this undated photo.

The first wave of women could be on their way to the United States Army’s prestigious Ranger School later this year after passing a two-week-long qualifying course.

Five women and 53 men completed the Ranger Training Assessment Course in Fort Benning, Ga., on Jan. 30. The first-ever coed Ranger School will be held in April.

Some 19 percent of the women who enrolled in the course completed it (5 of 26), while 55 percent of men completed the course (53 of 96). Given that this was the first integrated RTAC, the women's completion rate sets an initial bar. 

Going forward, "historically, more than half of the soldiers who complete the RTAC will successfully complete the Ranger Course,” Army officials said in a statement. (Those were all men.)

Women who successfully complete Ranger School will receive a certificate and will be permitted to wear the prestigious Ranger tab. For the time being, however, they will not be allowed to serve as Rangers. Women are still prohibited from serving in direct combat, though the armed services have been reevaluating that position and are expected to deliver recommendations to the secretary of Defense about women in combat by next January.

Still, the 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,” says Greg Jacob, who served as a Marine and is now policy director at the Service Women’s Action Network in Washington. 

The Army describes the Rangers as its “premier direct-action raid force,” requiring its troops to be “lethal” and “agile.” It will hold three more RTACs between now and the opening of Ranger School, giving more women a chance to qualify.

The troops who worked with the women were “impressed with the level of physical fitness and the dedication of the majority of female volunteers,” Lt. Col. Edmund “Beau” Riely, commander of the Army National Guard Warrior Training Center, said in a statement from Fort Benning.

The first phase of the RTAC “mirrors the assessment phase at Ranger School, and is “designed to assess a soldier’s physical and mental abilities,” according to the statement.

This includes a physical fitness test, a swimming evaluation, land navigation, and a six-mile foot march. 

The second phase of the RTAC is a “field training exercise” to test and train soldiers on “troop leading” skills, “which will be used extensively during the Ranger Course,” the statement notes.

The Ranger School “is one of the toughest training courses for which a soldier can volunteer,” the web site notes. For more than two months, “Ranger students train to exhaustion, pushing the limits of their minds and bodies.”

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