Saturday morning, in a building adjacent to Lawson Army Airfield at Fort Benning, members of the first integrated Ranger School waited for a C-17 aircraft to arrive from Charleston, S.C., for a training jump.
There was a little time to kill because of rain, low-hanging clouds and gusty winds.
But Mother Nature, who eventually won by grounding the jumpers, wasn't the only woman they were talking about inside the jump building. The conversation, thanks in large part of a gaggle of national and local journalists, was also about the eight women who survived the Ranger Assessment Phase and have a shot to earn the Ranger tab if they can complete the toughest course the U.S. Army offers.
One of those who fully understands the significance of the first Ranger Class to accept women is Airborne Ranger Training Brigade Command Sgt. Maj. Curtis Arnold Jr.
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"If a young lady were to earn her tab -- and everyone here doing this will tell you this, she will earn her Ranger tab, no one is going to give her anything -- it should be inspiring to the rest of the Army," Arnold said. "It can inspire an entire generation of women who serve in our Armed Forces. They will say, 'If she can do it, I can.' In the end, we get a better soldier. We get a better leader. How is that bad? How does that hurt your unit?"
It is not a stretch to compare these women to Jackie Robinson, who broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball, Arnold said.
"I tell everyone, I absolutely get the magnitude of what we are doing here," he said. "I want everyone to understand it is historic. But what I have tried to tell my (Ranger instructors), I am not telling you to downplay what you are doing. I just want you to do your job. It is just Ranger School. If we do that and someone is successful in the end, believe me, it will speak volumes. Our goal, is if a soldier -- male or female -- gets the tab or not, I want them to walk away from here better trained."
And that is what appears to be happening. The physical requirements have not been altered. There was a class of 399 soldiers who reported April 19. It included 19 women who had all completed a two-week pre-Ranger training course at Fort Benning.
After Monday's physical assessment, 81 soldiers -- including three women -- were dropped because they could not complete the 5-mile run, pushups, situps and chinups to specifications.
On Wednesday, two more of the 16 remaining women fell out because they failed to locate the required number of objectives after two attempts on the land navigation course.
On Thursday, six more women were dropped from the course when they failed to complete a 12-mile road march carrying 35 pounds of equipment and almost 15 pounds of water and hydration equipment in three hours or less.
Maj. Gen. Scott Miller, commander of the Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Bennning, and the Airborne Ranger Training Brigade leadership sat down with those women.
"What we all walk away with is admiration and respect," Miller said. "They are a little inspiring as far as what they had to say not only about the cadre and the course, but to get back in here and do it again."
There was something that Miller said he took away from the conversation.
"They also said don't change the standards," Miller said. "One of them was very vocal. She said, 'Thank you very much for not changing the standards.'"
That tracks with what is being said throughout the Army, said Brig. Gen. James Rainey, commandant of the Infantry School.
"The people I talk to who are the most adamant about not changing the standards are not Infantrymen. They are not the former Rangers. They are the women. And that encourages me," Rainey said. "I think it would be a huge disservice to what we are trying to do if we change standards because that will undermine the credibility of the women who do succeed."
The names of the female soldiers in the class have not been released by the Army. Some of the Army leadership has expressed concerns about the pressure they could face by being identified.
But one thing is clear, what the ones who are still in the class have accomplished, is something to be proud of, said retired Command Sgt. Maj. Dennis L. Smith, who owns Uncommon Athlete Inc., a downtown Columbus workout and training facility.
"It is a tremendous feat to make it through RAP week," Smith said. " I am very pleased that they have made it this far. But I have said all along there will be females that will make it through RAP week. They will just gut through it. Now, the test starts."
There are three difficult and demanding phases remaining at Camp Darby at Fort Benning, Camp Merrill in the north Georgia mountains and Camp Rudder, near Destin in the Florida swamps.
The remaining soldiers will be graded on small-until patrols and their leadership abilities. The game becomes as much mental as physical from this point, Smith said.
"You have to take it one bite at a time," he said. "You can't just look and say I am graduating June whatever. You can't look at that or you are never going to get there."
A Ranger School class graduated Friday at Victory Pond and only 19 percent of that class went straight through without having to recycle and retake part of the course.
The current class started at 399 and was trimmed to 192 at the end of the physical assessment. It is now back up to 263 as 71 soldiers out of a previous class will move to Camp Darby with the current group.