Pentagon makes 'obvious' choice, opens Ranger School to women permanently

After two women passed Ranger School last month as part of an experiment, the Pentagon has permanently opened Ranger School to female soldiers, abandoning a planned review of the subject later this year.

John Bazemore/AP
US Army Capt. Kristen Griest (l.) smiles as she stands in formation during an Army Ranger School graduation ceremony on Aug. 21 at Fort Benning, Ga. Capt. Griest and then-1st Lt. Shaye Haver became the first female soldiers to complete the Army's rigorous school.

The Army announced Wednesday that it is opening its storied Ranger School to all soldiers, regardless of gender.

This decision comes on the heels of the news last month that two women – Capts. Kristen Griest and Shaye Haver – had passed the school and would each earn a Ranger tab. 

It was a first for female solders. 

But the Ranger School class that produced the first female graduates was technically an Army experiment, launched earlier this year. 

At his last press conference as Army Chief of Staff, Gen. Raymond Odierno said that the Army would wait for the next coed class to go through Ranger School in November to make a final decision about whether or not to permanently open the school to women.

The Army decision this week represents a notable shift in thinking. 

“The bottom line is that it just became obvious” that the school should be open to women after Captains Griest and Haver passed the course, says Lt. Col. Jerry Pionk, an Army spokesman. “What these women did was nothing short of amazing – they changed a lot of minds.” 

As a result, the thinking became, “Why go through the rest of the course in November when we can open the school now?” he added.

“The Army’s No. 1 priority is combat readiness, and leader development is a function of combat readiness,” new Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said in a statement. “Giving every qualified soldier the opportunity to attend the Ranger Course, the Army’s premier small unit leadership school, ensures we are maintaining our combat readiness today, tomorrow, and for future generations.” 

Advocates for women in the military praised the decision. 

“This is fantastic news and long overdue,” says retired Col. Ellen Haring, a senior fellow at Women in International Security, an advocacy group in Washington. Colonel Haring previously filed suit against the Defense Department challenging its ban on women in combat. 

The question that remains is whether the Army will now allow women to join the Ranger Regiment, a special operations forces branch of the service.

Currently, though two women have earned Ranger tabs, unlike men, they are not allowed to serve in the regiment. 

This may change later this year, when the services are required to open up all combat jobs to women, or come back with a marked reason – backed by scientific research – why they are unwilling to do this, and ask for an exemption. 

“Certainly, any women who qualify to be Rangers should be welcome additions to the Ranger Regiment,” Haring says. “Now that women are qualifying to become Army Rangers, I would expect to see the 75th Ranger Regiment open its organization to women.” 

The next Ranger class to include female soldiers is slated to begin in November. There is currently one other woman making her way through the final 2-1/2 weeks of Ranger School. 

If she is successful, this Army major – a West Point graduate and mother of two – would graduate Ranger School in mid-September.

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