In a historic step, 16 female soldiers made it through their first day of U.S. Army Ranger School, a punishing infantry course that was previously closed to women.
Nineteen women took part in the Airborne and Ranger Training Brigade's first co-ed Ranger course Monday at Fort Benning, Ga. The female candidates joined 380 male soldiers to take on the Ranger Physical Fitness Assessment – a pass-fail event that prevents many from entering the course.
Students must perform 49 push-ups in two minutes, 59 sit-ups in two minutes and six chin-ups to a strict standard, Ranger officials maintain. They also must complete a five-mile run in 40 minutes.
At the end of the day, three females did not meet the standard to continue, a 16-percent failure rate. By contrast, 78 male candidates didn't meet the standard to continue, a 20-percent failure rate.
Candidates also had to complete the combat water survival assessment (CWSA).
The CWSA consists of a log walk and rope drop where candidates have to scale a ladder 30 feet above the pond, walk up and down a short set of stairs and crawl out onto a rope to a hanging Ranger Tab sign. They do one pull-up and ask permission to drop into the pond before falling into the pond and swimming to the side.
Then the swim-test portion requires them to go into the water, calmly take off their equipment and swim 15 meters without panic to demonstrate their ability to swim to safety should they get into a position where they are in over their head in the swamps of Florida, or anywhere else during training, Ranger officials said.
This was day one of the Ranger Assessment Phase, or Rap week.
The second morning begins with a 10-kilometer, land navigation course. Students have to find four out of five points in five hours – 2.5 hours in the dark and 2.5 hours during daylight.
Students who fail the course can retest on the following day.
Following the land-nav course, students spend the rest of the afternoon crawling through the mud and negotiating other challenges on the Malvesti obstacle course.
The last hurdle of RAP is a 12-mile road march students must complete in less than three hours, carrying a rifle, fighting load carrier vest and a rucksack weighing approximately 43 pounds.
"All students have to make it through phase one in order to advance in the course," said Gary Jones, a spokesman for Fort Benning. "If they don't make it all the way through to Thursday, which includes the 12-mile foot march, then they are out."
RAP week accounts for about 40 percent of the students who fail to make it through the course. Another 15 percent of students fail to complete the course because of injuries and poor performance.
Once students complete RAP, they have 57 days to complete to earn the coveted gold and black Ranger Tab.
Ranger School is a punishing ordeal designed to push combat leaders, both officers and sergeants, to their mental and physical limits. About half of all candidates fail to meet the standard.
Senior Army leaders recently decided to allow females to attend the historically male-only, infantry course. The effort is a result of former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's January 2013 directive that all services open combat-arms roles to women that so far have been reserved for men. The services have until 2016 to make this happen.
Like male candidates, female Ranger School students will have to spend long hours weighted down with infantry weapons and equipment on patrols through the thick forests of Fort Benning, and the dense swamps of Camp Rudder, Florida.
They'll also be expected to climb and rappel in the steep mountain terrain of Camp Merrill near Dahlonega, Georgia.
Ranger School candidates have to endure these challenges on two meals a day while getting three to four hours of sleep a night for eight weeks.
-- Matthew Cox can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org