The first two women are set to graduate Friday from the Army’s elite Ranger school, a milestone in the Pentagon’s goal of integrating women into roles where they had not served before.
The pair, whose names the Army did not release, completed a 62-day combat course that includes a grueling 12-mile march across rugged terrain in Ft. Benning, Ga., two-day climbing exercises in the mountains of northern Georgia, and 10 days of small-unit tactics in the sweltering swamps of Florida.
The course is designed to push soldiers to their mental and physical edge by limiting their food and sleep while they complete exhausting exercises. The physical fitness test includes 49 push-ups, 59 sit-ups, a five-mile run in 40 minutes, three parachute jumps, and 27 days of mock combat patrols.
The women will wear the black and gold Ranger tab on their uniforms, signifying that they completed one of the military’s toughest combat courses and putting themselves in a better position for leadership roles. But unlike their male counterparts, they are not eligible to join the 75th Ranger regiment, a special operations force.
The Pentagon continues to study how many of the thousands of combat-related jobs now reserved for men can be open to both sexes.
The Army said 19 women and 381 men started Ranger class on April 20, and 94 men and two women met the standards. They will graduate during Friday’s ceremony at Ft. Benning.
“This course has proven that every soldier, regardless of gender, can achieve his or her full potential,” Army Secretary John M. McHugh said in a statement late Monday. “We owe soldiers the opportunity to serve successfully in any position where they are qualified and capable, and we continue to look for ways to select, train, and retain the best soldiers to meet our nation’s needs.”
Women constitute about 15% of active-duty military, which has long resisted putting women in combat roles.
Many military men continue to believe that women lack the strength to fight and survive in the harshest conditions. But since combat experience is crucial to career advancement, women often are blocked from leadership roles if they stay in the military.
The Pentagon lifted the ban on women in combat in 2012, but kept other front-line jobs off-limits.
Under current law, the Pentagon has until Sept. 30 -- the end of the fiscal year -- to develop gender-neutral rules for all remaining jobs closed to women.