Two female officers will make history on Friday by becoming the first women to graduate from the traditionally all-male U.S. Army Ranger School, officials said.
The West Point graduates, who have not been identified, are in their final days of the grueling two-month leadership training program. Two separate sources told Military.com that they will receive the highly coveted Ranger tab on Friday.
The service later confirmed in a press release that two women and 94 men completed the 62-day course, which includes everything from PT and swim tests, to land navigation exercises and a 12-mile foot march, to obstsacle courses and parachute jumps, to mountaineering tests and mock patrols.
“Congratulations to all of our new Rangers," Army Secretary John McHugh said in the release. "Each Ranger School graduate has shown the physical and mental toughness to successfully lead organizations at any level."
He added, "This course has proven that every Soldier, regardless of gender, can achieve his or her full potential. 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."
The Army had already sent out invitations to more than 30 media outlets, including Military.com, to attend the ceremony. The female candidates and their male Ranger buddies plan to sit down for an interview the day before the event.
The two were among a trio of women who since April have been participating in the physically and mentally exhausting leadership course held in three phases at Fort Benning in Georgia and Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. The third woman is currently repeating the second or "mountain" phase of the program.
Fort Benning began its first co-ed Ranger course on April 20. Nineteen women and 380 men were pre-screened for the program. Eight women made it through the first week, called Ranger Assessment Phase, but didn't pass the subsequent Benning Phase. They were "recycled," or allowed to attempt the Benning Phase a second time, but failed. Five women were then dropped from the program and three were invited to start over from day one, along with five male candidates.
The Army said more than a third -- or 34 percent -- of students who enter Ranger School recycle at least one phase of the course, adding to the student’s physical and mental fatigue.
The integration of women at Ranger School is a key part of the Army's effort to study how to open direct-action combat jobs such as infantry to women. Under a 2013 directive from then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, the military services must open all combat jobs to women by next year or explain why any must stay closed.
While the female Army officers will be entitled to wear the Ranger tab, they still won't be allowed to serve in the 75th Ranger Regiment, the special operations forces unit, or receive the special skill identifier code added to the end of their military occupational specialty -- unless existing rules and regulations are changed.
-- Brendan McGarry contributed to this report.
-- Matthew Cox can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org