Nearly three months after Army Secretary John McHugh approved the first integrated Ranger training for women and men at Fort Benning, 20 women are expected to tackle the grueling, nine-week course starting Monday at Fort Benning.
The women successfully completed a two-week Ranger Assessment Training Course to qualify for Ranger School. They join a class of about 400 soldiers trying to earn the coveted Ranger tab with the toughest training in the Army.
As the first phase of training gets underway at Camp Rogers and Camp Darby, instructors at the Airborne and Ranger Training Brigade said that, based on history, nearly half of the graduates will repeat portions or get recycled through the course, and that less than half will graduate.
Retired Col. Ralph Puckett, an inaugural inductee of the U.S. Army Ranger Hall of Fame and decorated veteran of the Korean War and Vietnam War, supports the integrated training as long as standards aren't slackened. "I have thought for years that it's OK with me, if they maintain the standards," he said.
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Former Ranger instructors said male and female soldiers will be physically and mentally tested in the beginning of the first week called Ranger Assessment Phase or "RAP week," in which 60 percent of soldiers fail in the first four days. The physical assessment standards include 49 pushups, 59 situps, a five-mile run in 40 minutes or less and six chinups.
Retired 1st Sgt. David Lockett of Columbus recalled his first day at Ranger School in 1958. "The first thing they asked me was could I run five miles," he said. "I said, 'Yessir, if somebody is after me, I could.' But laying all jokes aside, they were not kidding me."
After the physical assessment, soldiers take part in a Combat Water Survival Assessment at Victory Pond and navigation training. Constantly moving 16 to 18 hours a day with little food and sleep, soldiers continue the second day with night navigation and a 2.1-mile buddy run while carrying an M4 rifle. In a dramatic finish, the run culminates in the infamous "worm pit" at Malvesti Confidence Course.
Soldiers who make it to the fourth day focus on equipment assembly and a rugged 12-mile foot march in three hours while hauling 35 pounds on their backs.
Many tasks are physical in the course, but Lockett said soldiers must also be mentally prepared for the tough training.
"If you don't have the attitude the first day of training, you can wash out," he said. "You've got to have the mental attitude. If it wasn't hard, everybody in the Department of the Army would have a Ranger tab."
Only about two-thirds of the original class will continue in the 21 days of training at Fort Benning. Days are filled with leading procedures, principles of patrolling, drills and negotiating the Darby Queen, an obstacle course with 20 challenges stretched over a mile of hilly terrain.
Seventy-five percent of those who complete "RAP week" will eventually pass the Darby Phase on post before moving to mountain phase at Camp Merrill in Dahlonega, Ga., and the third and final swamp phase at Camp Rudder at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. To make it through each phase, Ranger students must receive a passing grade in one leadership position during patrol, a positive peer review and no more than three major negative spot reports.
Retired Maj. Bill Spies of Fort Mitchell said the Benning phase is the toughest of the three. "If they make it out of Benning and go to the mountain, they might get recycled, but most are going to fail in the Benning phase," said Spies, who served as an instructor twice at Ranger School. "That's why it is set up the way it is. It is to keep them hungry and tired through the whole course. It's a shock for some of them."
Puckett and Spies plan to observe some training on the first day, and both believe some female Rangers will make it through the process. Lockett said he will wait and see but noted that he wouldn't want his wife, sister or daughter going through the training.
Spies, 80, said he talks to every Ranger class and even walked the course before his knee was replaced. "I will cheer them on -- women, men, every one of them," he said. "It makes me no difference. A Ranger is a Ranger."