EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- When word spread throughout the U.S. Army that its toughest training school was going to be open to women, Sgt. 1st Class Jeremy Lemma admits he and many of his Ranger brethren felt the same way.
And Lemma is not just any Ranger. A Ranger instructor, he and his Ranger buddy Sgt. 1st Class Timothy Briggs won the Best Ranger competition at Fort Benning in April, marking them as the best of the best.
"It is not just other guys -- it's me," Lemma said Thursday at Camp Rudder in the Florida swamps, as two women work their way through the final phase of Ranger School. "I questioned it, too. I questioned the process as well. How wouldn't you? Years of Ranger School going back to the 1950s, and we are finally getting females through.
"If you are a male and you are tabbed, you are probably going to question it. A lot of guys, with politics, you have to say the right thing. The bottom line is almost every guy questions it."
Col. David G. Fivecoat said he knows there have been doubts about the women in the program, even from those who are instructing them.
"The Ranger instructors in the Army are smart, top 5 or 10 percent folks," Fivecoat said. "They think about things. They have made a commitment to the Army and they want it to be successful."
But after Lemma questioned it, he said he turned the question on himself.
"You got to ask yourself why you are saying, 'I don't think females should be in Ranger School,'" Lemma said. " ...Is it a pride thing? Do you feel that tab you have earned is less masculine now because females are now equal to you?
"If that is the case, then that is you. You've got to look at yourself. Obviously, you are not comfortable with who you are. You feel intimidated. I think you have to question why you feel that way."
When he heard what Lemma said, Fivecoat replied, "I am glad he is comfortable enough to express what he thinks."
After 110 days in Ranger School, two West Point graduates are the first women with a real opportunity to earn the Ranger tab, held by less than 3 percent of the Army's soldiers. As an instructor for the Florida phase, Lemma has noticed the two women in a class of 167 students.
And seeing them has changed his opinion.
"I am more open-minded," he said during a break before a planned Airborne training assault.
"I see these women have a lot of courage -- and these two specifically. It is impressive. You don't want to be a subjective person. You want to be as objective as possible and be open-minded. My views have changed."
Lemma is quick to point out that the two women blend in as the soldiers go through the training in the Florida humidity.
"When they are in a leadership position and I hear them talking, that is when I can tell they are a female," Lemma said. "As far as just looking at them, you can't tell."
Even when he hears the unfamiliar sound of a woman's voice coming from patrol planning, Lemma said he doesn't react.
"You don't want to call them out," Lemma said. "You don't want to put the spotlight on them. They are just a Ranger student."
The women have arrived at Camp Rudder with a string of accomplishments.
"The bottom line is the two that are here, they made it here," Lemma said. "They proved in Darby and proved in the mountains they have the physical tools to make it this far. Their peers have accepted them because they passed peers.
"They earned it. What else can we say?"
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