Chuck Williams, Ledger-Enquirer win McClatchy President's Award

The Ledger-Enquirer has won a McClatchy President's Award for Chuck Williams' coverage of the female soldiers who broke the gender barrier at Army Ranger School, The McClatchy Company announced on Thursday.

The last time the newspaper received a President's Award was in 2006 for its coverage of Northern Little League's World Series championship.

Other winners of the President's Award included the Miami Herald, Kansas City Star and Sacramento Bee.

To cover the story, Williams followed Ranger training at Fort Benning as well as in the north Georgia mountains and the Florida swamps.

On Aug. 21, Capt. Kristen Griest and 1st Lt. Shaye Haver, both active-duty soldiers, became the first women to graduate from Ranger School. On Oct. 16, Maj. Lisa Jaster, a Reservist and 37-year-old mother of two, also received her Ranger tab.

The story was covered by national media, including The New York Times, Washington Post and major television networks. Williams' reporting often dug deeper and took a different approach.

"For our readers, this was a local story," said Dimon Kendrick-Holmes, executive editor of the Ledger-Enquirer. "Many of them wear the Ranger tab or know someone who does, and many combat veterans have chosen to retire to this area. They wanted to know if the women would be held to the same standards."

In December, the Ledger-Enquirer published two narrative stories drawing from exclusive interviews with the three women. In the first story, "Turning Point," Williams reconstructed the events of May 29, when the women learned they had failed Ranger School and convinced cadre to grant them a Day 1 recycle.

Williams' reporting showed that male soldiers typically don't push for a Day 1 recycle because they'll have the opportunity to return to Ranger School in four to six months, after they've had time to physically recover. Griest, Haver and Jaster pushed to start the course over from scratch because they were part of a pilot project and unsure they would be invited back.

Judging the President's Award competition this year were Joyce Dehli, former vice president of news at Lee Enterprises; Marty Kaiser, past editor of The (Milwaukee) Journal Sentinel and a former president of the American Society of News Editors; Tim Grieve, McClatchy's head of news strategies; and Anders Gyllenhaal, McClatchy's vice president for news and Washington editor.

The judges wrote this: "Williams methodically built relationships among Army Rangers at nearby Fort Benning and with Columbus residents who had befriended the first women to vie for the Ranger tab. The result: a powerful series of stories that took readers deep inside the Ranger training and explored the complex social and military issues surrounding the women who would ultimately emerge triumphant."