FORT BENNING, Georgia -- Two female officers made history on Friday by becoming the first women to graduate from the traditionally all-male U.S. Army Ranger School.
Capt. Kristen Griest, a 26-year-old military police officer from Connecticut, and 1st Lt. Shaye Haver, a 26-year-old AH-64 Apache helicopter pilot from Arizona, earned the coveted Ranger tab during a ceremony here under sunny summer skies and in front of bleachers filled with family members and loved ones.
The event took place near Victory Pond, a key training site where Rangers learn water survival techniques, and featured a demonstration of various infantry skills, such as rappelling, hand-to-hand combat, explosives and helicopter insertion. The theme song to the 1992 movie, "The Last of the Mohicans,"' played on loudspeakers.
Wearing a mix of camouflage patterns, the students stood in formation and received a handshake from the new Army Chief of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley. Family members later approached the line to pin Ranger Tabs on their loved ones. Griest and Haver stood together, smiling while receiving congratulations from various Ranger School officials.
They had accomplished a hard-won honor that has eluded many a male soldier since the course was founded in 1952. Ranger School is a 62-day course described as the Army's premiere infantry leadership course, an ordeal that pushes students to their physical and mental limits.
"It's pretty cool that they have accepted us," Haver said during a briefing with reporters on Thursday, referring to their male Ranger buddies. "We ourselves came to Ranger School skeptical, with our guards up, just in case there were haters and naysayers. But we didn't come with a chip on our shoulder like we had anything to prove."
She added, "I can say that without a doubt that the team that I am graduating with tomorrow accept me completely as a Ranger, and I couldn't be more proud and humbled by the experience."
Griest echoed Haver's comments.
"My main concern in coming to Ranger School was I might not be able to carry as much weight or not be able to meet up to the same standard," she said during the same event. "I tried to do as much as I could, and I saw everybody else helping each other out and you just try to be the best teammate that you can."
Haver, Griest and a third female officer -- who is currently repeating Mountain Phase -- are all who are left of the original 19 female volunteers to go through the first co-ed class of Ranger School beginning April 20. In addition to the 19 women, there were 380 men who started the course.
The historic achievement comes at a time all of the services are preparing to make recommendations of 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.
Defense Secretary Ashton Carter on Thursday congratulated the women and said their achievement will make it hard for the services to argue that any combat jobs should remain closed to female troops.
Haver, the helicopter pilot, plans to return to her unit, the 4th Infantry Division's 4th Combat Aviation Brigade at Fort Carson, Colorado. Griest, who serves in the 716th Military Police Battalion at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, wants to pursue a job in Special Operations Command.
--Brendan McGarry contributed to this report.
--Matthew Cox can be reached at Matthew.Cox@military.com