April 10–FORT DRUM — When a first-of-its-kind Ranger School course begins at Fort Benning, Ga., on April 20, Capt. Michelle L. Kelly, stationed at Fort Drum, will be among the women with a rare chance to make history by wearing the coveted Ranger tab.
“Minds start changing when they start seeing how physically capable women are,” she said.
So far, 12 women have qualified, with one more training group attempting to get into the class.
The upcoming course follows the 2012 decision to lift the ban on women in combat roles, with the services slowly expanding more jobs to women.
By 2016, the services have to integrate women into all jobs, unless full reasoning for the exception is provided.
Graduates of the new class will not be eligible to join the Army’s 75th Ranger Regiment but will have the honor of completing one of the service’s toughest challenges.
“This is a school that tests you in a way no other school does,” Capt. Kelly said. “There’s nothing out there, I can’t even come up with something in the civilian world, that puts you in the situations I will face being in Ranger school, and makes you perform well in those situations.”
Capt. Kelly, whose 13-year career includes a 2009 deployment to Iraq, began training last October, when the division called for potential applicants. She completed the post’s pre-Ranger training, then was part of the March 19 Ranger Training and Assessment Course, where she was one of six in the 34-woman course to graduate. Two other 10th Mountain Division women are retaking the pre-Ranger course with the hopes of making the April 20 class.
Capt. Craig W. Bosveld, who commands the 10th Mountain Division’s Light Fighter School, said the course is key in developing leaders for the field.
“It’s about getting other soldiers who are in as terrible a position as you are to accomplish the mission when they don’t really want to,” he said. “When they’re tired and they’re hungry and their bodies are broken down, getting them to complete the mission.”
The post’s schools have always allowed women into its pre-Ranger classes, he said. Near the entrance to the post’s Ranger training building, a sign spells out the training simply: “NOT FOR THE WEAK OR FAINTHEARTED.”
“The weight gets greater every phase,” Capt. Bosveld said.
Capt. Kelly, 37, of Chatham, has a lengthy sports resume, starting when she landed a spot as a wide receiver on the Chatham High School football team.
“They were like, ‘You can’t play football; you’re a girl,'” she recalled. “I couldn’t even understand or comprehend what they were saying.”
She competed in track, cross-country and swimming at SUNY Cortland, and upon joining the Army she entered the Army’s World Class Athlete Program in modern pentathlon, an event that includes fencing, swimming, show jumping, pistol shooting and cross-country running.
Among her highlights were two U.S. Modern Pentathlon Senior National Championship gold medals, qualifying for the Olympics as an alternate in 2004, and just missing qualification in 2008.
She’s also run the Army Ten Miler multiple times, and coached the post’s team for the event. “The cardiovascular was there,” said Sgt. 1st Class Joshua W. Bone, who has coached her since she graduated from the post’s course. “We had to work on the upper body strength.”
With days before the start of the course, he said his trainee is ready for what lies ahead.
“She’s exceeding the standard,” Sgt. Bone said.
Since switching over to the division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team recently, she said brigade leaders have encouraged her and other Ranger applicants of both genders to take time as needed to prepare for the rigorous course.
The idea of women in combat roles has not been universally accepted. A recent study indicated men in special operations forces do not believe women can meet the physical and mental demands of the roles. Critics such as former Rep. Allen West called it politically motivated.
“The mentality of ‘every kid gets a trophy’ has finally come to the U.S. military,” he wrote.
Graduation numbers also have been low, with the three completed RTAC courses seeing graduation rates from 6 percent to 19 percent.
Despite these issues, Capt. Kelly said seeing women complete training like the Ranger course and enter new roles may help alleviate proficiency concerns. She said women can bring different perspectives that improve performance in units at all levels.
“If you take everyone’s strengths and put them to use, you’re that much stronger,” she said.
Capt. Kelly said passing the course might help women down the road, including her 3-year-old daughter, Lillian.
“To think that what I’m going to do is potentially going to make a difference in her life,” she said. “Whatever she wants to do, there potentially won’t be anybody saying ‘You can’t do that because you’re a girl;’ that’s pretty exciting.”
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