U.S. Army Soldiers participate in rappel training during the Ranger Course on Camp Merrill in Dahlonega, Ga., July 12, 2015.

U.S. Army Soldiers participate in rappel training during the Ranger Course on Camp Merrill in Dahlonega, Ga., July 12, 2015. U.S. Army photo by Spc. Eric Hurtado

Two Women Advance To Final Phase of Army Ranger School

Of the three women still vying to graduate from the first gender-integrated course for the Army’s elite, two moved on to the swamp stage. One gets another shot.

On Friday, 127 students qualified for the final stage of Army Ranger training — including  two women, the first to ever advance to this stage of the elite special operations course.

Of the 19 women who began the first gender-integrated Ranger course on April 2, three remain. Two will enter the last portion of Ranger school, the swamp phase, on Aug. 2. The third was “recycled,” or earned the right to re-try, the second portion, the mountain phase. Instructors recycled 60 men as well, which according to the Army is standard procedure for students who excel in most areas of the course but struggle at one particular element.

The Army began the mixed-gender course as a one-time test, part of an ongoing assessment of the barriers that remain to the military’s full gender-integration. But officials have since indicated there likely will be more, as a January 2016 deadline quickly approaches for all military occupation specialties, or MOS, to be opened to women — unless a service requests and is granted an exemption.

The mountain phase includes such challenges as a 1.8-mile foot march up a mountain, a knot test, and leading platoon-level combat patrols. The swamp phase is 17 days of platoon operations in the coastal swamp of Valparaiso, Florida, including two air jumps for certain personnel, waterborne training, and a 10-day field exercise with students leading patrols.

The Army has said that the “vast majority” of the students dropped from the course’s different phases have struggled with leading patrols.

If the 127 men and women succeed in the swamp phase, they’ll get their coveted Ranger tab at graduation at Fort Benning, Ga., on Aug. 21.

(See also: As Deadline Nears, Special Ops Chiefs Talk Women In Combat)

Col. David Fivecoat, commander Airborne and Ranger Training Brigade, noted the added difficulty of attempting to pass the Ranger course in “this extremely hot summer.” He also indirectly addressed concerns expressed by some opponents of full gender-integration that the military is lowering its standards for women attempting to become the first to officially join the services’ most competitive special operations teams. The Defense Department has decisively rejected the notion as inaccurate.

"The coastal swamps of Florida will continue to test the students,” Fivecoat said. “Only the best will be successful and earn the Ranger Tab.”