Ask Rufus Riggs if he is surprised that all three women left in U.S. Army Ranger School are graduates of West Point, and he is quick to answer.
“Not at all,” Riggs said Monday, the same day the Army announced the two women who made it to the final phase in Florida will graduate on Friday. A third woman is still in the mountain phase.
Riggs, 72, can offer an informed opinion.
Toward the end of his 28-year military career, he was the sergeant major to the Corps of Cadets at West Point from August 1985 to April 1987, basically two academic years. He retired two years later as a command sergeant major at Fort Devens in Boston.
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“From my experience, all of the young people — men and women — who go to West Point are strong-minded, strong-willed and quite determined to do well,” Riggs said. “They do not get accepted just because they are smart — though that is part of it. They get accepted because of their will.”
Riggs, like most of those who wore the Army uniform, has watched with great interest as women have been allowed to attend the Army’s most demanding training for the first time.
And he has taken an enlightened view of the process and the people participating in it.
“I am one of those who believes that human beings — men and women — should be given the opportunity to compete,” Riggs said. “What we are seeing is a major example of the mental and physical toughness of some of the women in our country.”
And it is not lost on Riggs — who had a distinguished military career that included earning the top rank a non-commissioned officer can obtain as well as a combat tour to Vietnam in 1969 — what these women volunteered to do when they signed up for Ranger School.
“I never went through the Ranger training,” Riggs said. “I wasn’t sure that I was mentally or physically tough enough. And I am a pretty tough guy.”
If you know Riggs, you know he is honest.
When these women graduate Friday, there will be a loud and long discussion on social media and other places in this country about the standards. Some will argue that the standards have been lowered to get a woman through the course.
Those in the process — 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 Ranger instructors such as Sgt. 1st Class Gregory Space at Camp Merrill in the north Georgia mountains and Sgt. 1st Class Jeremy Lemma, winner of this year’s Best Ranger competition and an instructor at Camp Rudder in the Florida swamps — insist the difficult standards have been met.
Riggs believes them.
“It is about integrity. That is the most important thing to men like them,” Riggs said. “If an NCO like the ones you mentioned looks you in the eye and says standards have not been lowered, I would believe them. If they had not believed that, they would have told you to talk to someone else or they would have given you a no comment.”
Riggs applauds what is happening in Ranger School.
“This is not only big for the Army, this is big for women,” he said “For years, women have been marginalized. And it has been wrong. Women have worked the same jobs as men in the corporate world, and many have been paid less.”
The fact that women have completed Ranger School speaks volumes, Riggs said.
“They have proved themselves in the very toughest of environments.”