The U.S. Army on Wednesday announced that qualified troops regardless of gender will be allowed to attend "all future classes" of its elite Ranger School.
The move came less than two weeks after a pair of female soldiers and West Point graduates -- Capt. Kristen Griest and 1st Lt. Shaye Haver -- made history by becoming the first women to graduate from the traditionally all-male infantry course. Another woman has advanced to the third and final phase of the two-month leadership training program.
It also appears to supersede a previous plan to hold another co-ed class as part of a pilot program this fall at the Ranger School, which is based at Fort Benning, Georgia.
Army Secretary John McHugh said, "We must ensure that this training opportunity is available to all soldiers who 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," according to a statement released by the service.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley added, "The Army's number one priority is combat readiness and leader development is a function of combat readiness. Giving every qualified soldier the opportunity to attend the Ranger Course, the Army's premier small unit leadership school, ensures we are maintaining our combat readiness today, tomorrow and for future generations."
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. Over the past two years, only about 40 percent of males successfully completed the course, according to leaders from the Airborne and Ranger Training Brigade, which runs the program.
The accomplishments of female soldiers in the program come at a time when all branches of military service 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 Tuesday gave the clearest signal yet that he's preparing to lift the restrictions on women serving in combat jobs and open all military occupational specialties to those who can meet the standard.
Citing the example of Griest and Haver, he said, "When put to the test, not everyone, only a select few, will meet our standards of combat excellence. But no one needs to be barred from their chance to be tested."
--Matthew Cox and Richard Sisk contributed to this report.
--Brendan McGarry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.