The Army is allowing 60 women into the mentally and physically challenging Ranger School, giving them a chance to earn a coveted Ranger tab. Army National Guard 1st Lt. Patricia Smith is among the women training for the process.
According to the Chattanooga Times, for the first time the Army is considering if and how it might let women into one of its toughest combat groups, the Army Rangers. However, even if any of the women succeed in the program, there is no guarantee they will be allowed in the 7th Ranger regiment.
Originally, Smith did not think women belonged in infantry positions. Then she started working as a platoon trainer, spending time with both men and women, she saw firsthand women who were just as strong, smart and skilled as their male counterparts.
Smith, 40, feels differently now. She feels women and men should be given the same opportunities in the armed forces as long as they are held to the same standards.
U.S. Armed Forces are diligently working towards integrating women into combat jobs. In 2012, then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced the opening of combat positions to women, and in 2013, he lifted the military’s exclusion of women in direct ground combat. At the same time, the Navy is considering developing a plan to integrate women into its elite unit, the Navy SEALs. The military must open all combat jobs to women by 2016 or will be required to ask for special exceptions.
However, as it has for decades, the thought of women serving in combat positions has both supporters and naysayers. The Washington Post reported that on one side there are troops who believe that if women can meet the requirements, they should be able to fill the job. But on the other side, there are those who say they are sick and tired of what they see as social experimentation in the Armed Forces.
Former Ranger Russ Bryant said some women may be able to complete the tough requirements of Ranger School but he has his concerns. Bryant wrote a book on the Army Rangers and has photographed troops in Iraq. He worries women’s presence could disrupt a unit and they may lack the physical strength needed during wartime.
“Say I go through a door, I have a female behind me and I get shot in the chest,” he said. “I’m on the ground and I’m out. Can that female pick me up with 150 pounds of crap on me and throw me on her shoulder to get me to a medevac?”
“I don’t think the American public is ready to turn on the TV and see a female infantry platoon wiped out by an IED with eight bodies lying there,” Bryant added. “I don’t think we’re ready for that.”
Fort Benning will soon host four classes of Ranger Training Course Assessment for the women preparing to enter Ranger School. It is a pre-Ranger School program that prepares candidates for the rigors of the real 62-day program. In Ranger School, the women will be deprived of sleep and food.
The Chattanooga Times reported that along with time at Fort Benning, the training takes them to the mountains of North Georgia and the swamps of Florida. In the past, only about half of candidates completed successfully and some have even died during the program.
“I think it will be the challenge of my life,” Smith said. “I’m all about new experiences and this is going to be a new experience.”
Even if Smith successfully completes the pre-Ranger program and Ranger School, she has no desire to go into active-duty service or serve in a Ranger regiment. Her work in the Guard involves her training others and she hopes this experience will help her build leadership skills.
“I’m old. I’m going to retire in a few years,” Smith said. “I’m never going to be in a Ranger regiment. But I want other women to have the opportunity.”