They came in droves. Women from West Point’s first graduating class and female veterans of war hopped on a plane or into a car for a day-long road trip to bear witness to a moment in military history: The graduation of two of their fellow female soldiers from Ranger School.
On Friday, they watched Capt. Kristen Griest, a military policewoman, and 1st Lt. Shaye Haver, an attack helicopter pilot, become the first women ever to pin on Ranger tabs, along with 94 of their fellow graduates, in a ceremony at Fort Benning, Ga.
The day has been months in the making, since 19 women earned the right to start Ranger School back in April.
Many of those women attended the graduation ceremony, recognizable through the pixie cuts they share, their hair growing out after being shorn for Ranger School.
“We’re all so proud of them. They’re two phenomenal people – physically, mentally,” says Spc. Patricia O’Toole, who was one of 19 women in the first co-ed class.
Their accomplishment has further fueled the drive of Specialist O’Toole and her fellow female soldiers to return to the school in November, when the Army has said that it will offer another co-ed Ranger School class.
“Now that we’ve had a taste of it, we can’t not go back,” she says. “We think about it. There’s not one day we don’t think about it,” she adds, of returning to Ranger School.
This next potential crop of female Rangers mingles with graduates of the West Point Class of 1980, the first to include women.
“This is how it’s supposed to happen – the young soldiers surpass the old,” says Sue Fulton, a class of ’80 West Point graduate, here with a contingent of some 70 of her fellow classmates.
As Ms. Fulton talks, one woman passes by, on the way to her seat in the bleachers. She introduces herself as a 2001 West Point graduate with a high-five and a fist pump. “Yeah!” she yells.
Deirdre Dixon (West Point ’84) road tripped from Tampa, Fla., with her daughter Caneel, who will attend West Point. She wanted her daughter to be a witness to history, and to determination.
As the ceremony begins, the announcer invites the family members who have “sons or daughters” who are Rangers to stand, to whoops and whistles.
That moment was particularly poignant for 1st Lt. Jill Mueller, who drove from the mountains outside Dahlonega, Ga., where she is a Ranger School observer-adviser, to attend the graduation.
“Just to hear them say ‘sons and daughters’ gave me chills,” she says. “It’s empowering,” another female soldier added.
As the ceremony progressed, Maj. Gen. Scott Miller, commander here and a Ranger himself, noted that these Ranger School graduates, like those who had come before them, faced considerable obstacles, including scrutiny and a powerful lightening strike in the Florida swamps that caused 40 Ranger students and instructors to be hospitalized earlier this month.
To the crowd, he reiterated a point that has become the subject of considerable debate on social media: “There was no pressure from anyone above me to change the standards,” Major General Miller said. These students had accomplished what they did through their own “perseverance through privation.”
And for that, he added, “You carry the title of Ranger from here on out.”