After a long and physically demanding day Monday, the first U.S. Army Ranger School class to include women was back at work before 3 a.m. Tuesday on a Fort Benning land navigation course.
There were about 318 soldiers — including 16 women — on the land navigation course. The class was considerably smaller after Monday’s physical assessment took out 81 candidates — including three of the 19 women who started in the class of 399.
The next major cut in numbers will likely come today and Thursday when the soldiers are required to complete a rugged 12-mile foot march in three hours or less while carrying up to 50 pounds of gear and water. Typically, 20 to 30 soldiers are knocked out in each event, said Col. David Fivecoat, commander of the Airborne Ranger Training Brigade.
Army officials are not expected to release daily totals of the number of female candidates in the class and did not do so Tuesday.
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The land navigation is an individual exercise in which the soldiers have to find the points using their own map-reading skills. It is probably the most gender-neutral event during the school, said Sgt. 1st Class Travis Pheanis, a Ranger instructor.
“It is all on you,” Pheanis said. “You are not carrying a pack. There’s nothing that would matter, male or female, on this. It is all your wit. And walking from Point A to Point B with water on your back — which is not much more than a backpack.”
If a soldier failed the land navigation assignment Tuesday, they get the opportunity to retest today while those who passed save the strain of an extra 10 kilometers on their body. That can be problematic because of Thursday’s timed 12-mile march.
“Every step you take and every PT session you do here is all accumulating on your muscles,” Pheanis said.
Like their male counterparts, the women will have an opportunity to recycle into the Ranger School program if they fall out after the first week, said Brig. Gen. James Rainey, commandant of the Infantry School. Only about 20 percent of those who start Ranger School go straight through without having to retake a portion that they failed.
“There are men who go to this 62-day course for six months,” Rainey said. “You can recycle each of the three phases up to twice. Usually, a couple of recycles is all someone can handle physically. If these women recycle, we are not going to pull them out. They will be afforded the same opportunity the men are.”
The Army has not opened any other Ranger School classes to women.
“Right now, this is a one-time assessment of the Ranger course we are doing as part of that larger gender integration effort,” Rainey said. “And there is no decision on whether we are going to permanently open Ranger School or whether we will do another assessment at some point in the future. Those decisions have not been made.”
The three women who failed the physical assessment Monday or if any fail the ongoing land navigation test or Thursday’s 12-mile march that has to be completed in three hours or less, they would have to start the course over. But they could not do that until the Army offers another course that is also open to women.
Right now, the Army is going to school on this Ranger class, Rainey said.
“I think we are going to learn a lot about how men and women work together effectively, build team effectively in really adverse and strenuous situations,” Rainey said. “Ranger School comes as close to replicating combat as you can without being in combat. When I say combat, I mean the leadership conditions in which you have to lead at the small-unit level in combat adversity and stress. I hope we learn a lot about that.”
There will also be data created on the science, Rainey said.
“We will learn about injuries, weight, ability to move,” Rainey said.
Whether a woman graduates or not doesn’t matter, said Maj. Allie Hamilton, a staff officer involved in the project to integrate women throughout the Army.
“This isn’t about comparative performance of men versus women. And just because one woman doesn’t graduate, does not mean there is not a soldier out there who could train, who could prepare,” Hamilton said. “The future of the decision is not resting on this class of 380 or so individuals.”