Soldiers cool down after a two-mile run with their assigned weapons, before participating in an obstacle course on Fort Benning, Ga., Feb. 7, 2015.

Soldiers cool down after a two-mile run with their assigned weapons, before participating in an obstacle course on Fort Benning, Ga., Feb. 7, 2015. Army by Sgt. Sara Wakai

Six More Women Qualify For Army’s Elite Ranger School

Six more women now can attend the first gender-integrated Ranger Course on April 20. The last chance to join them begins Friday.

A dozen women have now qualified for the Army’s Ranger School, putting them one step closer to becoming the first females to complete one of the military’s most elite special operations training programs alongside men.

Six servicewomen successfully passed the latest round of the Ranger Training Assessment Course, or RTAC, qualifying them for the first gender-integrated full Ranger Course beginning on April 20, the Army announced on Wednesday. The two-month combat training course is considered to be one of the toughest in the military.

Five women qualified during the first RTAC in January, and one in the second round in February.

“As we’ve seen from the Ranger Course, women are able to take on the challenges,” Army Secretary John McHugh told Defense One recently. “Not all men can be infantrymen, and not all women can and would want to be infantrymen.”

Thirty-four women and 85 men attempted the most recent course from March 6 to March 19. Twenty-five men passed. More than half of those who pass the RTAC go on to graduate the Ranger Course, according to the Army.

It was the third of four RTACs open to both men and women. The last RTAC runs from April 3 to April 18, ending just days before the Ranger Course begins.

"The standards are the same during the gender-integrated RTAC iterations, and they won't change," Maj. William Woodard, company commander at the Army National Guard Warrior Training Center at Fort Benning, Ga., said in the Army release.

But even if these women pass the Ranger Course and get their Ranger tab, that doesn’t mean they’ll join the 75th Ranger Regiment -- beyond more training and schooling, it is currently only open to men.

For the women that may pass, they’ll still have to wait, McHugh told a group of reporters during a Defense Writers’ Group breakfast at the end of February. “We’re going through the process, and we’re nearing the end of that, and until such time as in this case infantry units may not be open, we can’t place females into Rangers units or any other infantry units,” he said.

Though a majority of the military’s roughly 1,000 occupations are currently open to women, some of the most demanding positions, such as infantry and special operations, remain closed to them. The Army’s gender-integrated RTACs and Ranger Course are part of an ongoing, military-wide assessment of the remaining barriers to full gender-integration in the military, ordered by former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. Unless a service requests and is granted an exemption, by January 2016, all military occupation specialties, or MOS, across the services will be opened to women.

“I will tell you that the assessment course has been very, very valuable experience,” McHugh said. “It’s also been valuable for the Army because it’s helped us understand some of the challenges that are attendant to integration on the battlefield.”

“We are very methodically determining what the required physical skills for the MOS’s may be,” McHugh said, “not to lower the standards, not to accommodate women, but to better posture every soldier, male or female, for success and also to ensure that whatever job they’re doing, they’re actually physically able to do it.”

McHugh said none of the services had requested waivers as of February, and that he’s not aware of any larger discussion or plans to make exemptions, though Pentagon officials have said that they expect the services to request exemptions for their most elite jobs.

“I think whether it’s Rangers or infantry or artillery, the ones that remain closed [to women] to at this point, if they are requesting an exemption, both in the [Joint] Chiefs and my eyes, as well as more importantly the secretary of defense’s eyes, they better be pretty well founded,” McHugh said. “It will be up to the commander to make a persuasive argument -- we’ll have to see if they’re able to do that.”