Fort Benning

Oklahoma congressman requests documentation proving women 'deserved to pass' Ranger School

By Chuck Williams

chwilliams@ledger-enquirer.com

The Ledger-Enquirer

An Oklahoma congressman and combat veteran has demanded that the Secretary of the Army produce paperwork documenting the performance of the women who recently graduated Ranger School.

Rep. Steve Russell, R-Okla., a retired Army lieutenant colonel with deep roots to the infantry and combat tours to Iraq and Afghanistan, sent a letter to Secretary of the Army John McHugh on Sept. 15, and the Ledger-Enquirer obtained it late Tuesday from Russell’s office.

Among the documents he requested were patrol grade sheets, spot reports, phase evaluation reports and sick call reports, all "with Ranger Instructors’ comments for each and every phase to include every recycled phase and class."

Russell also requested peer evaluations and "a complete breakdown of each female candidate’s recycle history and dates for each phase."

The request from Russell comes nearly four weeks after Capt. Kristen Griest and 1st Lt. Shaye Haver became the first women to graduate from the Army’s most demanding combat training school, which was established in 1951.

A third female soldier is currently in the final phase in Florida and could graduate next month.

Russell, an infantry battalion commander who is Ranger qualified, was chief of tactics at U.S. Army Infantry School at Fort Benning in 2005 and retired a year later.

"Our office recently received information from some people with the Ranger School who alleged they were not held to the same standards," said Russell’s Communication Director Daniel Susskind late Tuesday. "We asked for the records to make sure that all of the people who passed the course deserved to pass it."

Susskind said Russell was asking for information for all of the students, not just the women. But the letter to McHugh specifically asks for information on "the female graduates and those female candidates that entered Ranger School May 1." The class in question started April 19 with 19 female candidates.

Russell closed his letter to McHugh with this sentence: "Your prompt attention to this matter is not only constitutionally required, it is also greatly appreciated." He gave a deadline of Friday to receive the information.

Russell was part of a congressional delegation that visited Ranger School in April shortly after the women began the course.

A Fort Benning official declined immediate comment Tuesday night.

Throughout the entire process, Army officials — including Maj. Gen. Scott Miller, commander of the Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning; Col. David G. Fivecoat, commander of the Airborne and Ranger Training Brigade; and Command Sgt. Maj. Curtis Arnold of the Airborne and Ranger Training Brigade — have maintained the standards were not lowered.

Command Sgt. Maj. Dennis Smith, who retired in 2012 after serving at the Airborne and Ranger Training Brigade, said Russell may be surprised by what he finds.

"I think the records will indicate, just as we have been told, the females were graded as evenly and as fairly as anybody else and deserved to graduate," Smith said. "What the naysayers don’t understand is that you can recycle up to three times in each phase as long as it is not for the same thing twice."

Students are graded in each phase on small unit patrols, peer evaluations and spot reports by the Ranger Instructors.

At last week’s graduation, three male soldiers each graduated after 208 days and multiple recycles in the three phases of Ranger School.

Haver and Griest failed the first patrol phase at Fort Benning twice before accepting an offer to start the school over from the beginning. They spent 123 days or about four months in the school, which takes 62 days if a soldier passes each phase on the first attempt, a feat that only about 30 percent of graduates accomplish.

Fivecoat, as Ranger training commander, has been the officer charged with overseeing the first class to include women.

"All the women did the exact same thing as their male counterparts," Fivecoat said during the Florida phase in early August when Haver and Griest passed on their first attempt.

Sgt. 1st Class Jeremy Lemma, a Florida instructor who with his Ranger buddy Sgt. 1st Class Timothy Briggs won the Best Ranger competition at Fort Benning in April, said he at first questioned the process of opening the school to women, but changed his mind after seeing Haver and Griest in action.

"If you are a male and you are tabbed, you are probably going to question it," Lemma told the Ledger-Enquirer in August. "A lot of guys, with politics, you have to say the right thing. The bottom line is almost every guy questions it."

But after Lemma questioned it, he said he turned the question on himself.

"You’ve 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."

Retired Command Sgt. Maj. Matt Walker worked with the Airborne and Ranger Training Brigade nearly 10 years before retiring in 2010 as the top enlisted infantryman at Fort Benning.

"The schism in our community hurts my heart as someone who was a Ranger leader for a long, long time," Walker said. "But until you know otherwise, if someone tells you something you must take it as the truth. If Curt Arnold tells you no standards have been compromised — and he’s wearing the hat — we should take his word for it."

Students who graduated with Haver and Griest said the women earned their Ranger tabs.

Second Lt. Zachary Hagner, Griest’s Ranger buddy, said on one mission in the mountains he needed a break from carrying the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon.

"I went to everybody in the line, and there was no word," Hagner said. "As soon as I went to Ranger Griest, she wanted it and took it away from me. Nine guys were too broken and too tired."

Congressman Steve Russell's request to Secretary of the Army

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