Three soldiers remain at Fort Benning awaiting the opportunity to become the first women to complete the most physically and mentally demanding training offered by the U.S. Army.
Their task to complete Ranger School was made much taller on May 29 when they took the command staff's offer to start the course over after failing to meet standards more than six weeks into it. They join the next class on June 21, two days after the class they started with graduates.
The three women who will restart Ranger School -- what the Army terms a "Day 1 recycle" -- would not have been offered that opportunity if there was not a chance of success, Airborne and Ranger Training Brigade Command Sgt. Maj. Curtis Arnold said Friday.
"We believe that they are close enough if they start again that there would be a success," Arnold said. "What is the physical condition? That is a consideration. Their mind will tell them they want to do it, but a lot of times their body is incapable of that. These women have done the same thing. They came in and said, 'Please let me do this again. I really want to be here.' And we have done it. We look at the files, and they can be successful."
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The final decision on whether or not a student gets an offer to recycle part or all of the course rests with Airborne and Ranger Training Brigade Commander Col. David G. Fivecoat and Arnold. They make those decisions using data collected by Ranger instructors who grade the students on small-unit patrols and write them up for positive or negative actions.
The three women who remain in the school were part of a group of 19 who started April 19. That was cut to eight by the end of the Ranger Assessment Phase. On May 29, five women were dropped after failing the Darby patrol phase for the second time. The three women waiting to start the course over also failed Darby twice.
Five soldiers -- including the three women -- were offered the opportunity to recycle from the beginning. Two male soldiers declined the offer and were dropped from the course.
"I would like to take this back and not just focus on the women, but anyone who takes a Day 1 recycle -- been through Darby twice or has been further in the course -- is displaying an incredible amount of grit, determination and desire to earn the Ranger tab," Fivecoat said during a Friday telephone interview.
By starting over, the three soldiers have to pass the Ranger Assessment Phase for a second time. It's a four-day process designed to test for the physical demands that will be needed throughout the course.
Students must pass a basic physical fitness test that includes being able to do 49 push-ups, 59 sit-ups, six chin-ups and a 5-mile run in 40 minutes.
They also must pass a water assessment in Victory Pond at Camp Rogers.
Before the assessment phase is over, soldiers have to pass a land navigation test and complete a 12-mile road march in under three hours carrying about 50 pounds of equipment and water.
They would then move to Camp Darby to run the Darby Queen, a 26-obstacle course that is arguably the Army's most difficult.
"Realistically, they are starting over from the beginning," Arnold said. "They are going all the way back. Got to do every RAP week standard like every other student. If they come in and they are asking for a Day 1, they present the desire and passion because they want to earn their tab."
What does it say about soldiers who are willing to start the course over?
"What it says about them is they are outstanding soldiers and they have grit and determination," Arnold said. "They are not asking for any special favors. They are not asking for anything but the opportunity to earn a Ranger tab. We do this with the male soldiers, as well."
At the end of each patrol phase, the students are given an honest assessment of their strengths and weaknesses, Fivecoat said.
"We are trying to make sure they go away from Ranger School with an acknowledgement of what their shortcomings were from the course and a plan to try and fix it so they can come back and be successful at Ranger School," Fivecoat said.
Camp Darby, which sits on the eastern edge of Fort Benning, is the first of three patrolling phases. After successfully completing Darby, students move to Camp Merrill in the north Georgia mountains, then to Camp Rudder in the Florida swamps near Destin.
Darby has proved difficult for the women students, who have failed each time.
Small-until patrols are the core of the Darby training, and those patrols are done as soldiers are deprived of sleep and food.
"You are talking about extended movement through the woods and rolling terrain," Arnold said of the Darby patrols. "You are given a mission. That mission is to conduct a raid/ambush/squad attack on an objective. You have to come up with a route to get from Point A to Point B, tell everyone the plan, react to contact enroute, complete the mission, exit off objective and go to the patrol base and reset for the next mission."
The patrols are designed to be completed in 24 hours or less.
"During that 24-hour period, they are changing the leadership within the organization at least twice," Fivecoat said. "Start with one, halfway through switch to another group of leaders. Make sure next group of leaders is ready to execute the plan."
Ranger instructors are with the patrols the entire time.
The April 19 Ranger School class was initially the only one that the Army said would admit females. Opening a Ranger School class to women is part of the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command Soldier 2020 effort. The plan aims to integrate women into previously closed military occupational specialties. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno said last month the Army is looking at allowing female soldiers to attend "a couple more" classes of Ranger School.
As the women await the next class to start June 21 -- two days after the class the women started with graduates -- the soldiers are not sitting in the barracks relaxing, Fivecoat said.
"I don't think they -- the Day One recycles and the other recycles -- would describe it as waiting," Fivecoat said on Friday. "This morning they did a road march along with push-ups and sit-ups and chin-ups. They are conducting demanding physical training so they have the ability to make it through RAP week, which, as you saw, was a pretty demanding physical event."