Three women will join 158 men for intensive Ranger training in the mountains of Georgia next month, making them the first to qualify for the second phase of one of the military’s toughest special-operations courses, Army officials said Friday. The announcement came just hours after Defense Secretary Ash Carter signaled his support for women to serve in elite combat jobs.
The 161 students began the first portion of Ranger School, called the Darby phase, on June 21 at Fort Benning, along with 201 others who did not successfully complete the course. They won’t get much of a breather to celebrate: they’ll enter the mountain phase on Monday.
Then, after eight days of training in military mountaineering and techniques and 10 days of leading patrols in Georgia’s Chattahoochee National Forest, they’ll be assessed on their performance. Success means advancing again, to the Florida phase that starts Aug. 1.
“The students of this class, just as all other Ranger classes, have shown strength and determination to persevere and complete the first phase of this rigorous course in the heat of the Georgia summer,” said Col. David Fivecoat, who leads the Airborne and Ranger Training Brigade. “I’m confident that they are trained and ready.”
Most of the 201 dropped from the course struggled to lead patrols, Army officials said, a challenge that has persisted throughout the last several classes. That was the reason given for dropping several of the 19 women who began the first gender-integrated Ranger course on April 2.
Of that initial group of women, eight had done well enough in the first phase to try again. The second time through, five were dropped, but three excelled at enough aspects of the course to earn the right to start the whole thing over. These three at last cleared the major hurdle of the Darby phase on Friday.
More women will likely follow, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno said at the end of May. The mixed-gender course was initially intended as a one-time test case as part of a military-wide assessment of the barriers that remain to full gender-integration across the branches. But Odierno told reporters, “We’ll probably run a couple more pilots. It’s been a real success for us, and we’ll see how it goes from there.”
All military occupations will be opened to women by next January unless a service requests and is granted an exemption for a particular set of jobs — a decision that Marine Corps commandant Gen. Joseph Dunford may have to face twice as both the current commandant and also President Obama’s nominee for Joint Chiefs chairman, according to the Marine Corps Times. Dunford received a relatively easy hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Friday, and committee Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., told Politico the full Senate could confirm him as early as next week.
Earlier Friday, Secretary Carter talked about opening to women the remainder of the military’s occupational specialties. “I’m really committed to seeing this through,” he told troops at Fort Bragg, N.C.“Where I can have another half of our population be in that recruiting and retention pool, that’s a pretty good deal for the department,” he said. “It’s like doubling the population of the country.”
Carter said he expects to “close this chapter” of looking at which jobs should exclude women “by year-end or so.”