Sometimes you earn respect by raising your had, volunteering to do something others can’t do or simply won’t.
Those who are part of our all-volunteer Army have earned my respect. They raised their hands when I didn’t.
And they raised their hands when many of you didn’t, either.
But once they volunteer, there are other opportunities to raise their hands again. They don’t force you to go to Ranger School, as Maj. Gen. Scott Miller and others in leadership positions at Fort Benning have pointed out in recent weeks, those men and now women who go are volunteers.
Only about 3 percent of the Army’s soldiers earn Ranger tabs. Their training is a graduate-level course in leadership, survival and self awareness.
A lot of attention has been placed on Ranger School since the first of the year as it prepared to take its first class to include women in more than 60 years of training elite combat soldiers.
More than 130 women sought to earn spots in the class that started April 19. They were put through a difficult Ranger training assessment. Of that group, 20 women earned spots in the class.
A few hours into in the initial physical assessment, the number was down to 16. A week in, it was eight.
Today, there are three women remaining out of that 130. And those three soldiers you can call them women, if you will, I am going to call them soldiers sit at Camp Rogers on Fort Benning waiting for three weeks to start all over. The first six weeks are for naught, They did not pass the first phase of the difficult three-phase patrolling exercises that starts at Fort Benning, works its way into the mountains of North Georgia then concludes in the swamps of Florida.
Though these three soldiers the Army has not identified may be back where they started, they have earned respect among some of those who wear the Ranger tab. One of those is Michael Schlitz, an Army sergeant first class, who almost lost his life in Iraq eight years ago.
“They didn’t quit,” said Schlitz, who’s knows the meaning of resilience after 83 surgeries and the amputation of parts of both a arms relating to his combat injuries. “They are showing determination and integrity.”
He underscores his point.
“I understand that some men in that class were offered Day 1 recycles and they went home,” Schlitz said. “These women have been given another option and they are not accepting failure.”
Schlitz knows the women face long odds and he said the mandated experiment to include women is playing out as he anticipated.
“But they are not quitting,” he said again. “That says a lot about them as soldiers. Let’s face it, there are a lot of men in combat arms who have not attempted to go to Ranger School. I think you learn more about yourself in Ranger School than you do in combat.”