New female Rangers did more than pass: 'They beat me,' male student says

Capt. Kristen Griest and 1st Lt. Shaye Haver, the first female soldiers ever to earn a Ranger tab, on Thursday discussed their experience at the notoriously tough school. Their male Ranger buddies spoke about how skepticism turned to admiration.

Russ Bynum/AP
U.S. Army Army 1st Lt. Shaye Haver, right, speaks with reporters, Thursday, Aug. 20, 2015, at Fort Benning, Ga., where she was scheduled to graduate Friday from the Army’s elite Ranger School. Haver and Army Capt. Kristen Griest are the first two women to complete the notoriously grueling Ranger course, which the Army opened to women this spring as it studies whether to open more combat jobs to female soldiers.

They introduced themselves as Rangers, and America heard from two women who have made military history, as the first female soldiers ever to earn a Ranger tab.

Capt. Kristen Griest and 1st Lt. Shaye Haver, both West Point graduates, finished Ranger School earlier this week. On Thursday, they fielded a barrage of questions as they sat on a media panel to discuss their experience at the notoriously tough school.  

“It’s probably going to be one of the highlights of my life,” said Lieutenant Haver.

Captain Griest said that the moment was a years-long dream. Since she was a young cadet at West Point, she had trained, along with peers and mentors, for the possibility that one day there might be just such an opening for women.

Beside them on the panel, their male Ranger buddies spoke repeatedly about initial skepticism that turned to deep admiration – and the ways in which the women more than shouldered the load for the team, again and again.

One male Ranger student recalled a 12-mile ruck march, in which the women, with 50-pound packs, finished well ahead of many of the males. 

The rest of the males nodded in knowing agreement. “They beat me,” one student on the panel piped up.

They acknowledged, too, some initial doubts about whether women could make it physically, whether they could pull their weight.

“I was pretty skeptical,” said 2nd Lt. Michael Janowski, who was Haver’s Ranger “battle buddy” in the course’s mountains and the swamps. 

He knew she was tough from their time together at West Point. “I went to school with Shaye and I knew she was a physical stud,” he said. But even so, “I was skeptical of whether she could handle it.”

That was, he said, until they got to the mountains and had to do a long march. Lieutenant Janowski was the gunner for a 320 grenade launcher in that mission. “I had a lot of weight on me, and I was struggling,” he said. 

“So I stopped and asked at the halfway point, ‘Hey, can anyone help take some of this weight?’ ”

His fellow Ranger students responded with “a lot of deer-in-the-headlights looks,” he said. “A lot of people were like, ‘I can’t take any more weight.’ ”

Except, he said, for one person. “Shaye was the only one who volunteered to take that weight. She took the weight off me, she carried it for the last half of that ruck.”

That act “literally saved me,” he said, looking at her on the panel beside him. “I probably wouldn’t be sitting here right now if it wasn’t for Shaye.”

From that point on, “No more skepticism,” he said.

Haver said that the women arrived at the school with their own version of skepticism.

“I think that we ourselves came to Ranger School skeptical, with our guards up,” said Haver, who is an Apache helicopter pilot. Not “with a chip on our shoulders,” but braced for “the haters, the naysayers.”

Being a good teammate was their No. 1 priority, to prove that “we could be trusted like everyone else, whether it was on a patrol or to carry something heavy,” she added. “Every single time we accomplished something, it gave us that extra foothold in being part of a team.”

When she and Griest get their Ranger tabs Friday, “I can say without a doubt that the team that I’m graduating with tomorrow accepts me completely as a Ranger, and I couldn’t be more proud and humbled by the experience.” 

Griest’s battle buddy shared his own story about skepticism.

“I was I guess ignorant and assumed that because they were women it would be harder for them,” 2nd Lt. Zachary Hagner said.

But then he saw the two women in action. “Once I got to know [Griest], I was in no way skeptical anymore. She completely changed my mind, along with Ranger Haver.”

He recalled his own dark-of-night experience, when he had been shouldering the load of a SAW machine gun for three days. 

At that point, “I was like, OK, well, I need somebody to take this for me.”

He went to “every single person just in a line – no order.” Nine men “were like, ‘I’m too broken, I’m too tired,’ ” he said. “She, just as broken and tired, took it from me with almost excitement. I thought she was crazy for that,” he added, to laughter. “But she’s just motivated. That’s how she is.”

Upon hearing the effusive comments of her Ranger buddies, Griest joked, “It’s really a relief to hear that.”

She had long dreamed of coming to Ranger School, since she was a West Point cadet and a mentor invited her to be part of his infantry training program if she could meet the physical standards.

At the time she couldn’t, but she continued to train. “I tried to do as much as I could,” she said. “And then some,” to get in shape. Still, by the time she could enter Ranger School, she had doubts. “Coming to Ranger School, my big concern was that I might not be able to carry as much weight, or meet the same standard.”

But she did, and what kept her going through her darkest hours was a drive not to disappoint anyone – her Ranger buddies who had placed trust in her, and the female soldiers who will one day follow in her footsteps, should Army leadership agree to open the school to any woman who can meet its standards. 

“I was thinking of future generations of women – that I would like them to have that opportunity, so I had that pressure on myself,” said Griest, who is an Airborne-qualified military police officer (MP).

Now that they have done it, she said, perhaps this means their performance will stand as a strong statement, as the US military decides by the end of the year whether to open all combat jobs to women.

“That we can handle things physically and mentally on the same level as men, and that we can deal with the same stresses,” she said. “I do hope with our performance in Ranger School that we’ll help to inform that decision.”

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