As the debate over women in combat rages on in Washington, two women have completed the second, or "mountain phase" of Army Ranger School and a third will be granted the opportunity to start the course again, a practice called recycling.
All three women are graduates of West Point and are all that's left of the 19 female soldiers who pre-qualified for the school by completing an intense 17 day prep course.
What does it really take to complete Army Ranger School? More than you can imagine!
The graduation rate for Ranger School is only at 42% and the average student is 23 and by the time the course is successfully completed said student will have lost close to 20 pounds!
The Rangers are some of the most physically fit and tactically trained personnel in the military. Ranger School is a 61 day course with three phases, Benning Phase (also known as Crawl Phase or Darby Phase), Mountain Phase (also known as the Walk Phase) and Swamp Phase (also known as Run Phase or Florida Phase).
The intense first 4 days are known as Ranger Assessment Phase or RAP week and 60% of the course failures happen in this week. Of the 19 women who started the school, only 8 made it through this phase but all were recycled at a later phase -- including the two who have now made it through Mountain Phase (they were actually recycled twice).
Here is a little of what can be expected during this phase:
- the Ranger Physical Assessment— 49 push-ups, 59 sit-ups, 5-mile run in 40:00 minutes or better, and six chin-ups from a dead hang.
- the Combat Water Survival Assessment— a 40-foot walk across a very high log, a 75-foot suspension traverse, and a jump into Lake Victory in an Army Combat Uniform, followed by a 15-minute swim in boots. Here’s a video where the recruits are doing it in 32 degree weather:
- waking up at 3:30 a.m. for a night and day land navigation test.
- a 2.1 mile two-man buddy run in “Army combat uniform, un-bloused combat boots, Camelback, carrying an M4, wearing a headlamp, and no headgear.”
- the Malvesti Obstacle Course, where the infamous “worm pit,” a 25-meter mud pit covered in barbed wire, must be traversed on both the back and belly.
- a 12-mile ruck march, where students carry an average of 35 pounds without access to water, which must be completed within three hours.
All of that in 4 days! Following this, the meals are cut to one a day and at any point, a recruit can be told that they are in charge of 10 other equally exhausted and hungry recruits and they will be judged on their leadership skills, a theme that builds as one moves through the various phases.
The Mountain Phase
Here the recruits take to the mountains of the Chattahoochee National Forest in northern Georgia. The focus shifts to “military mountaineering tasks, mobility training, as well as techniques for employing a platoon for continuous combat patrol operations in a mountainous environment.”
Again, leadership is stressed in this phase. For women who don't have much leadership experience this proves to be a difficult phase. As Gizmodo
says, "It’s a bit of a vicious cycle in that these women are progressing past a point never before attained by female recruits, and then failing because of that lack of experience by female predecessors."
Now the recruits move to the backwaters of the Florida panhandle. This phase consists of days completely immersed in water, navigating swamps -- and snakes and alligators. A nightmare, really. The Army website says the “18-day final phase focuses on training students for missions in coastal and swamp environments while overcoming the challenges of severe weather, terrain, limited sleep, food deprivation, and mental and physical fatigue.”
When you consider how gruelling the first 40 days of the course is, it might not come as shock that over the years 22 students have died during this phase. It is in this phase that recruits find themselves engaged in combat like scenarios and receiving supplies through air support from a near by base. This use of air craft adds an element of reality to the whole deal.
Upon completion of all phases, select recruits are asked to join the storied 75th Ranger Regiment, a Special Operations unit that has conducted continuous overseas operations since September 11th and joined the ranks of elite forces such as Delta Force and SEAL Team Six. If the three women in questions complete the course, they will not be invited, however. That particular regiment is still off limits to women.
But, that may change next year if the Army decides that this experiment (opening the course to women) has proven that women have the mental and physical fortitude for combat. It may take up to 2 years though to see a woman in combat according to a recent Government Accountability Office report. These placements would only come after training, testing and other assignments.
All of this explains why there are so few women in top level command positions: the avenues to get there are not available. The Navy SEAL training, for example, remains closed to women. Right now, a few women are in a position to possibly complete the course that could open a position in a top regiment -- or at least those positions might open to them if they were men.
The Pentagon has vowed to have women integrated into every military job by January 2016 but I fear the wheels are moving more slowly than that.
What do you think? Do women have a place in combat positions? If a woman completes the Ranger School course, should they not be granted the same opportunities as her male counterparts? Share your opinions with us!
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