Two of the three women trying to become the first females to complete the most difficult mental and physical training offered by the U.S. Army have moved within one step of earning the Ranger tab.
The Army announced this morning that two of the three women, who were all West Point graduates, passed the mountain phase of the patrols and will move to Florida this weekend to begin the swamp phase, which is the final step in the arduous training.
There are 125 male soldiers moving with the women to Camp Rudder, near Destin, Fla. There were about 200 soldiers in the class when it started July 11 at Camp Merrill in the north Georgia mountains. The woman who did not pass the mountain phase will be given a second attempt in the mountains.
Retired Command Sgt. Maj. Dennis L. Smith, whose last assignment was in 2012 with the Airborne and Ranger Training Brigade at Fort Benning, said the two women have passed some of the toughest parts of the course.
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“Statistically speaking, there is a 90 percent success rate once the course moves to Florida,” said Smith, who owns Uncommon Athlete, a Columbus fitness facility that offers a Ranger School preparation program.
“Do I think we are about to have a female Ranger? I think we are real close to having two.”
Smith noted that injury, sickness or some unforeseen mistake could derail them as the course moves into the swamps.
The two women have emerged from a group of about 130 women who came to Fort Benning earlier this year to participate in a pre-Ranger course. That number was cut to 20, of which 19 started the first Ranger School course to include women on April 19. The Army described it as a pilot program on gender integration.
After a week-long physical assesment phase, the group of 19 women was reduced to eight. In the Camp Darby phase, where small unit patrols are introduced into the training, all eight women failed on two attempts. On May 29, three of the women were offered the opportunity to start the school over from the beginning, and the other five were dropped from Ranger School.
All three women accepted the offer to start over, while two male students in their class with the same offer decided to quit.
Maj. Gen. Scott Miller, commanding general of the Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning, and Command Sgt. Maj. Timothy L. Metheny observed the patrols in the mountains.“Day Nine of a 10-day field training exercise in the north Georgia mountains develops all of the qualities we are looking for in our future Rangers: grit, refusal to quit, tactical competence, and perhaps most importantly, teamwork while under extreme individual conditions,” Miller said in a prepared statement. “It is impressive to observe the students’ problem-solving in this environment, and equally impressive to watch our Ranger instructors coach, teach and mentor in an absolutely professional manner.”
The mountain phase the two women passed began July 11. In addition to the 127 soldiers who move to Florida and the 61 who will stay in the mountains and start the training over on Aug. 8, six men failed to meet the standards and were dropped from the course. The vast majority who are being dropped from the course were unable to successfully lead a patrol, according to the Army’s release.
Col. David Fivecoat, commander of the Airborne and Ranger Training Brigade, said he has been equally impressed by the effort of all the soldiers.
“The Ranger students, both male and female, are two-thirds of the way done with Ranger School,” Fivecoat said. “I was very impressed with the students’ toughness at leading platoon-size patrols in the north Georgia mountains, during this extremely hot summer. The coastal swamps of Florida will continue to test the students. Only the best will be successful and earn the Ranger tab.”
Only about 3 percent of the Army’s soldiers have earned that tab. The Ranger training program has been in place for more than 60 years and this is the first time women have participated. Top Army officers have indicated that future Ranger School classes could be opened to women, but that announcement has not been made.
Smith, the retired command sergeant major, suspects the attention will intensify as the class gets closer to the Aug. 21 graduation date.
“This is kind of like late in the last quarter of a football game or the last round of a boxing match,” Smith said. “I think some people are going to tune in just to see how it plays out.”