First Female Rangers Set to Graduate
August 18, 2015 8:55 AM   Subscribe

The U.S. Army's Ranger School is one of the toughest courses in the world. Over nine weeks, students are subjected to tests of their ability to perform under pressure, with little food, in austere and grueling environments. Graduates include Wesley Clark, Colin Powell, Kris Kristofferson, and -- for the first time ever -- two women.

The two West Point graduates, whose names have not yet been released, started the course with 17 other women and 380 men (94 of whom have also completed the course) as part of former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta's 2013 directive to open as many combat positions to women as possible. Critics of the decision have claimed that admitting women to the course would inevitably result in a lowering of its high physical standards, especially after all 19 of the women failed to meet those standards in May. The two graduates (and several others) were "re-cycled" -- allowed to start the course over -- at least twice. This is not uncommon for male students as well, as less than 10 percent of their initial cohort made it through the course on the first go.

The Navy's similarly arduous SEAL training will also likely start admitting women soon.
posted by Etrigan (34 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
This is a pretty big deal, and the women are seriously badass.
posted by theora55 at 9:20 AM on August 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

This quote gives me hope: “The women in Ranger School are another example of, if they can meet the standard, they should be able to go, and they should be able to earn their Ranger tab,” Odierno said. “And I think that’s how we want to operate as we move forward.”

I've occasionally seen the Navy Seals training on Coronado. When they train in public spaces, they send a public affairs officer to answer questions (of which I have many!)

The training looks absolutely brutal. Good on everyone - male or female - who makes it through it.
posted by 26.2 at 9:24 AM on August 18, 2015 [4 favorites]

I was hoping someone would make a post about this, so well done Etrigan. The fact that the two graduates and the woman remaining in Mountain Phase took a Day 1 recycle after recycling Darby twice just shows their incredible determination. I really can't express how difficult it must be to restart Ranger School after having already made it through RAP Week once and two iterations of Darby Phase and then have to do RAP Week again and go through the next three phases. It really takes a mental toll as much as a physical one to repeat the phases of Ranger School above and beyond the already high mental and physical demands of just doing the course in 62 days.

I have a lot of thoughts about the criticisms regarding giving women the chance to get their Ranger Tabs, most of which are foolish, unfactual, and based entirely in sexism, but for now I just want to wish these women congratulations and I hope that their recovery goes well.
posted by A Bad Catholic at 9:30 AM on August 18, 2015 [8 favorites]

The fact that so many people immediately cry out that the standards must have been lowered is a perfect example of why we need feminism.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 9:31 AM on August 18, 2015 [10 favorites]

Super proud of both of them. What a breakthrough.

I know I'll never live to see true equality of opportunity for women but keep hoping.
posted by bearwife at 9:34 AM on August 18, 2015

Historically, I think it's interesting that the first two are West Pointers (I don't know how many of the other 17 were, but I suspect it's a lot). When the United States Military Academy allowed women to enroll in 1976, basically the exact same arguments were used against it -- "They won't be able to achieve the same standards! The standards will drop for everyone and we'll have less capable officers across the board!"

History has shown this to be utter crap, of course, and while the Academy is still not the best college for women that it can be, the standards haven't dropped, and female USMA grads have served with distinction across the military.
posted by Etrigan at 9:39 AM on August 18, 2015 [9 favorites]

From a linked updated on the CSM article
The decision on women in combat roles is expected to come in January, when each of the services is required to either lift the exclusion or ask for an exemption to extend it, backed by scientific research showing why women can’t fulfill the tasks necessary to serve on the front lines.

Women have already been doing just that in Iraq and Afghanistan, where battles lines shifted unexpectedly, say advocates of women in combat. Now, the graduation of two women from Ranger School – where, Army officials stress, the standards were unchanged (emp. mine -eriko) offers further evidence that women are ready for a combat role, the advocates add.
Recycling through the Ranger School is not an issue. If you're clearly not suited, you're not allowed to. If you're borderline, you're either told to go get ready and come back, or cycled back to week one and sent through again. Almost nobody, as noted, walks in and passes, and only 6% of the entire US Army gets a chance at the school, only 3% earns the tab. Almost 60% of those who try fail in the first four days.

So, what do you call these women? Many things. But as of today? You call them Rangers.

I don't expect the pass rate for women to ever match the pass rate for men. The physical standards required are very high, because combat is a physical discipline, and unlike sports, there is no like-for-like competition. You have to be able to carry your load, the other members of the Ranger Regiment depend on you doing so. But the idea that women cannot pass this course? It was always nonsense. The reason they couldn't pass it is that they weren't allowed to try for so long. Now that they have, they are.

The reason it's so tough? The nature of the combat Rangers are like to see can be that tough, and a big part of the RASP is assessing mental toughness. Will you quit? And the only way to find out if you're going to quit is to make life completely miserable for you for an extended period of time and see if you do. Expect 4 hours a sleep a night for the next four weeks. They are trying to break you. That 12 mile march? Occurs at the start of week four -- it typically knocks out a quarter of the class in one night.

So, both the SEALs and the Rangers use the same stack of tricks -- basically, make you cold, wet, hungry and tired, and work you harder and harder and harder, while making it very easy to walk up and quit. Famously, the SEALs have the bell. Want this over? Easy -- walk up to the bell, put your helmet down, ring that bell, there's a mess, there's a bed, this nightmare ends *right now*.

But you ring that bell? You will never be a SEAL.

It's similar in the RASP. People who fail but come close? They get a break, and they recycle. People who quit? They leave and they never come back. People who get hurt? They heal up and get another shot (though some decide they don't want that shot.)

These two women. They didn't quit. They didn't make it the first time, and they came *back for more of that shit* and they made it -- and I'm pretty sure that while some aren't going to believe it, the Rangers than went through that know. They're Rangers. Nobody but nobody gets that tab for free.

Apparently, of those who tried the first time in the last cycle, three were allowed to recycle. These two have passed, the third is still on the course, which implies that she took a minor injury and was forced to slip back a week or so, or that she recycled again to the next. But she's still trying. The rest on this cycle have left the course, presumably permanently. Having said that, it's a better pass rate than normal!
posted by eriko at 9:43 AM on August 18, 2015 [44 favorites]

Most of the time, you recycle because you've gotten injured during training, so it's not at all a knock against you. If anything, it's harder on you to recycle.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:01 AM on August 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

I asked the public affairs officer about completion rates from the SEAL program. He said that early all of the drop outs (90%) are voluntary; the remainder are medical or performance.

(I blogged about it and went back to check my notes.)
posted by 26.2 at 10:08 AM on August 18, 2015

I'm torn. On one hand, great day for Feminism on the other hand, two more people are turned into highly efficient killing machines. Not really a win/win but it does make society a little more homogeneous in terms of what's available to both sexes and that's a net positive.
posted by doctor_negative at 10:15 AM on August 18, 2015 [3 favorites]

It's interesting to think about how violent opponents of our military might think of this.

They might think we are weaker for letting women in.

When actually we are much, much stronger for it.
posted by nickggully at 10:24 AM on August 18, 2015

A friend of mine's son failed in May and was recycled. He will be graduating with the two women in the same class. It's a tough program, but they recycle because it's tough, and they select for will and stubbornness as much as physical and mental prowess.
posted by dw at 10:34 AM on August 18, 2015 [9 favorites]

I'm actually glad that they didn't get through it the first time. It demonstrates that the Army DIDN'T relax the standards just because of the 'feminist agenda' or whatever.
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:08 AM on August 18, 2015 [4 favorites]

What about a Ranger training for peace and love? Brutal days helping the less fortunate. The constant strain of lifting the hearts of the downtrodden and carrying the burden of the oppressed and outcast. Twenty-mile treks across hostile land to deliver food and medicine to the needy and to deliver the message that every life deserves respect.
posted by haricotvert at 11:56 AM on August 18, 2015 [6 favorites]

The Navy's similarly arduous SEAL training will also likely start admitting women soon.

18 years from fiction to fact. We can do better.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:58 AM on August 18, 2015

Am I the only person who thinks that the military has had female special forces operators for years?

Wouldn't it make sense that there are places/situations where women would be at a distinct advantage? And wouldn't it make even more sense for there to be no public knowledge of these female operators?

Maybe I just read too many spy thrillers.
posted by paulcole at 12:11 PM on August 18, 2015

Am I the only person who thinks that the military has had female special forces operators for years?

Depends on how one defines "special forces operators". Tabbed Rangers in the 75th Ranger Regiment or Special Forces types on A-Teams, no. Women who are familiar with situations on the ground or who have particular experience relevant to the mission at hand as advisors of varying levels from "teaches the Rangers and SF types before the mission" to "is on the ground negotiating with the local matriarch while the SF guys pull security", sure.
posted by Etrigan at 12:18 PM on August 18, 2015 [4 favorites]

A friend shared this excellent piece by a Ranger who's very proud to have had his prejudices dismantled.
posted by hollyholly at 1:05 PM on August 18, 2015 [18 favorites]

I had female drill sergeants in 1983 and there was a female platoon in my basic training company. I think I remember being told that these were the first women in the army, so how did I have female drill sergeants? Not thought about that until now.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 1:27 PM on August 18, 2015

Mr. Yuck, the first women in the army thing probably came from the dissolution of the WACs in 1978. I joined in 1989 and had female drills that were proud former WACs. Trivia - WACs were allowed to keep wearing the insignia on their uniforms even after the conversion if it wasn't against the uniform of the day regs.
posted by ladyriffraff at 1:50 PM on August 18, 2015 [6 favorites]

shared this excellent piece by a Ranger who's very proud to have had his prejudices dismantled.

A Ranger who was also a West Point graduate and who was a member of the training cadre at the Ranger School.

He also notes that the two who have graduated went through two full recycles before this. They went through four months of that without a break. He states it point blank - they are far tougher than he is.

And finally, for once, it's safe to read the comments,

He also describes both West Point and the Ranger School as "that fucking place" and swore never to go back. He went back as a member of the cadre. I suspect he'll end up teaching at West Point.
posted by eriko at 3:08 PM on August 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

Am I the only person who thinks that the military has had female special forces operators for years?

From a military perspective, it's been pretty rare in the "western" nations - even allowing women to serve in combat roles has taken time, (2) let alone special forces. It looks like the American army started to figure out the value of female Cultural Support Teams that could work alongside the Rangers or similar units in Afghanistan. Moving back a little bit historically, women played a large role in WWII combat for Russia.

Britian's SOE during WWII made use of 55 female operatives, and they were trained in armed and unarmed combat for their missions.

Women in intelligence gathering roles - i.e., espionage and spying - has a much different history.
posted by nubs at 3:25 PM on August 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

The accomplishment marks a major breakthrough for women in the armed services at a time when each of the military branches is required to examine how to integrate women into jobs, such as infantryman, in which they have never been allowed to serve.

Well for a start they could not call them infantryman or airmen or corpsmen.

Some skeptics, especially in the military, have questioned whether the women were given an easier path to graduation.

Fuck you. These two women have succeeded where many have failed. In fact, they failed and recycled. Why is it so hard to believe?
posted by DarlingBri at 6:43 PM on August 18, 2015

I'm really proud of them, and proud thanks to them.
posted by Miko at 7:21 PM on August 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

Am I the only person who thinks that the military has had female special forces operators for years?

"Operator" in an unofficial term, and implies a specific role, one who specifically goes out into the field as part of very high risk missions. You don't refer to a "standard" Ranger as an operator, although they may go on to become one. Delta Force members are commonly referred to as "operators," for example.

Also, in the U.S. Army, the Special Forces term means something specific, the group commonly known as Green Berets. They are not always Rangers.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 7:42 PM on August 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

These are the Army’s first female Ranger School graduates

Way to go, Capt. Kristen Griest and 1st Lt. Shaye Haver!
posted by gemmy at 7:42 AM on August 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

Griest is an MP, so I'd bet on her being the first in line when they open infantry to women.
posted by Etrigan at 7:56 AM on August 19, 2015

One of my friend's friends, who was in that Ranger class with them, reportedly said, "They did everything the rest of us did and they actually worked harder than the rest of us. If anyone says anything negative about them, I'll tear their limbs off." So there you have it, a report from the front lines.

Griest and I were in the same graduating class in college, so we have a lot of mutual friends on Facebook, which is pretty neat.

And also, the Fort Benning facebook page admins were just crushing misogynists left and right today, so good job on them:

Fort Benning shuts down misogynist trolls
posted by A Bad Catholic at 9:19 PM on August 19, 2015 [3 favorites]

(two) Rangers Lead The Way.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:09 AM on August 20, 2015

The Washington Post published a piece today addressing some of the rumors/conspiracy theories from people who think these remarkable women couldn't possibly have passed on their own. (Don't read the comments.) Glad to see Fort Benning shutting that stuff down as well. I have a friend who started with them and is emphatic that they had to suffer and prove themselves just as much as anyone else. They are badasses, and I hope they have a great graduation ceremony tomorrow.
posted by earth by april at 2:19 PM on August 20, 2015

“Ranger School officer combats rumors about how women passed in pointed Facebook post,” Dan Lamothe, The Washington Post, 20 August 2015
Frustrated with the sniping, Maj. Jim Hathaway, the No. 2 officer in the Airborne and Ranger Training Brigade overseeing Ranger School, took to Facebook to respond. No matter what Ranger School officials say, he said, some people will never give the women credit.

“We could have invited each of you to guest walk the entire course, and you would still not believe,” he wrote. “We could have video recorded every patrol and you would still say that we ‘gave’ it away. Nothing we say will change your opinion.”
posted by ob1quixote at 2:20 PM on August 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm doing Reserve duty at the moment, and one of my fellow soldiers is an old-school Ranger. The topic naturally came up, and he pointed out that this class got struck by lightning a few weeks ago, injuring more than 40 students and instructors. He shook his head and said, "I figure God took his best shot and missed, so it's meant to be."
posted by Etrigan at 2:53 AM on August 22, 2015 [4 favorites]

Am I the only person who thinks that the military has had female special forces operators for years?

Wouldn't it make sense that there are places/situations where women would be at a distinct advantage? And wouldn't it make even more sense for there to be no public knowledge of these female operators?

Maybe I just read too many spy thrillers.

Virginia Hall was a (the only?) female paramilitary operative in the CIA's Special Activities Division, which is that Agency's secretive paramilitary group. Today SAD recruits "operators" from "tier one" Special Forces, so it seems reasonable to say that it is an organization with some similar capabilities to the Deltas or SEAL Team 6. But during her tenure at SAD, Hall was missing part of a leg, which suggests that she wouldn't meet the physical standards these kinds of troops have to meet. And she operated long before those modern Special Forces units were founded.

So there have definitely been women (at least one) in broadly "Special Operations"-ish military or paramilitary roles, but they might not have been like the Special Forces operators of today. Of course, if we expand the scope of the question to support roles, or to covert and clandestine missions other than paramilitary, then there are I think many women who've served in those roles -- and many of them will have had some kind of combat training I think.

Anyway, I just learned all this from Wikipedia. Fascinating stuff.
posted by grobstein at 10:53 AM on August 23, 2015

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