On Friday, for the first time in history, two women will graduate from the United States Army Ranger School, outlasting 17 other women and 287 men to earn the distinguished honor.
As students in this year’s first ever co-ed class, Captain Kristen Griest and First Lieutenant Shaye Haver endured 62 grueling days of intense physical and mental challenges including a time-tested 12-mile foot march, four days of military mountaineering and 27 days of mock combat patrols, persevering despite the frequent sleepless nights and limited food rations characteristic of the program. About 4,000 would-be Rangers brave the brutal course annually, but fewer than half graduate, with 60 percent of soldiers failing within the first four days.
The victory marks another step forward in the march towards women’s equality in the Armed Forces. Since former U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta lifted the ban on women in combat in 2013, men-only military institutions have been forced to consider women for armor, artillery and infantry duties or provide rationale for their exclusion. So far, the decision has expanded opportunities for women to apply their unique skills, and has jarred loose strongly held attitudes about the value of servicewomen in combat situations in even the most guarded institutions, including the Navy SEALS.
In fact, U.S. Navy Admiral Jon Greenert made waves this week when he advocated publicly for women to be allowed onto SEALS teams. “Why shouldn’t anybody who can meet these [standards] be accepted? And the answer is, there is no reason,” Greenert said on Tuesday. “So we’re on a track to say, ‘Hey look, anybody who can meet the gender non-specific standards, then you can become a SEAL.”
But for women seeking to serve in combat roles, the battle for is far from won. Even in the face of accomplishments such as Griest and Haver’s in the Army’s Ranger School, women are barred from serving with men in the 75th Ranger Regiment (despite women having boots on the ground as CSTs, supporting the elite special operations force in Afghanistan since 2011). Still other branches, like the United States Marine Corps, remain stubbornly closed to women in infantry positions with little hope of exception.
For now, however, the successes of Griest and Haver further demonstrate the power and resolve of warrior women to overcome any obstacle. “Each Ranger School graduate has shown the physical and mental toughness to successfully lead organizations at any level,” said Army Secretary John McHugh in a statement Monday. “This course has proven that every soldier, regardless of gender, can achieve his or her full potential.”