Depending on perspective, Monday was either a historic event or just another day at the Airborne Ranger Training Brigade on Fort Benning.
A class of 399 soldiers started the physically and mentally challenging 62-day course to become U.S. Army Rangers, among the nation's elite warriors. What was different was 19 of the soldiers were women, the first time in the more than half-century history of Rangers that the training has been opened up to females.
The weeding-out process began early, with 81 soldiers failing the physical assessment test and being released from the class. Of the 81 who failed, three were women, making the early failure rate 21 percent for men and 16 percent for women.
But to understand the events of Monday, talk to Staff Sgt. Benjamin Sun, a Ranger School instructor, and Capt. Marcelle Burroni, one of the 28 women assigned to the class as an observer/adviser.
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"To me, this is a historic day -- a very historic day," said Burroni.
For Sun, it was another day at the office.
"Honestly, it is just another day," Sun said. "I am an instructor. I am going to instruct whoever they put in front of me just the same."
This first week of training is taking place on Fort Benning and is called Ranger Assessment Phase, or "RAP week." It started with a physical assessment requiring Ranger candidates to meet a standard of 49 pushups, 59 situps, a 5-mile run in 40 minutes or less, and six chinups. Before it is over, the training will move to the mountains of North Georgia and to the Florida coast near Destin.
Maj. Gen. Scott Miller, commander of the Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning, said "there won't be a change in standards," and that there is no pressure on him to relax Ranger School standards for women.
Miller addressed the class Monday morning and said the women he talked to "seemed determined and prepared."
On Monday morning, as the Ranger students went through Combat Water Survival Assessment on Victory Pond, the only way to tell the women from the men was that the female candidates had slightly less severe haircuts than the men.
Col. David Fivecoat, commander of the Airborne Ranger Training Brigade, said this Ranger class will be treated like any other.
"All Ranger students will be treated equally and they will be graded to the same standards," Fivecoat said.
Burroni said she was not surprised at the results from the physical assessment and has "no doubt" there will be women who successfully complete the course. But for now, all eyes are on the women, she said.
"I think the challenge for them is to even show up here," Burroni said.
That is the challenge for any soldier, Sun said.
"It takes a lot of guts to come here and try -- male or female," Sun said. "... This is one of the few schools where if you fail, you are out. There is a stigma attached to failure in the Army. If they have the guts to come and try, that is a lot more than I can say for a lot of people."
"Not everyone -- even on the male side of the house -- has the intestinal fortitude to show up for Ranger School," she said.
Only about 3 percent of the Army has earned the Ranger tab.
Brig. Gen. James Rainey, commandant of the Infantry School, called Ranger School the best leadership school in the Army. He said this first integrated Ranger School class is part of an assessment phase.
"We are a long way from whatever decision is made on gender integration in the Army, but this will provide valuable information," Rainey said.
When asked if the women were pioneers, Rainey said he did not know if that was the correct word.
"They are leaders," he said. "It took a certain amount of courage and intestinal fortitude to be in the first group."
Rainey has no doubt women would have been here sooner had the opportunity been there.
"I served with several women in combat who had this been afforded to them would have taken it," Rainey said.
The next major cut in numbers will likely come Thursday when the soldiers are required to complete a rugged 12-mile foot march in three hours or less while carrying 35 pounds on their backs.
It was not an easy journey for the women to get to Monday's starting line. And it came nearly three months after Army Secretary John McHugh approved the first integrated Ranger training for women and men at Fort Benning.
All of the women who started the course had successfully completed a two-week Ranger Assessment Training Course at the Warrior Training Center on Fort Benning. The course has arguably the highest success rate of any of the pre-Ranger training programs, said Col. William J. Butler, deputy commandant of the Infantry School. About 60 percent of the training course graduates successfully complete Ranger School.
The training course mirrors the first couple of weeks of Ranger School with the physical fitness test, land navigation and marching.
"The senior leaders of the Army want to set the women up for success, best we could," Butler said. "We wanted everybody to have a common reference and common framework. That is why we brought all of the women who wanted to come to the course to this pre-Ranger course."
There were 113 women who went through the pre-Ranger course, taking up 138 slots because some of the women went through the course multiple times. One woman who began Ranger School on Monday went through the course three times.