WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Army said on Wednesday it would open its elite Ranger School to all soldiers regardless of gender, after two women made history last month by becoming the first to pass the grueling leadership course.
“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,” Army Secretary John McHugh said in a statement.
In a program that began in April, 19 women and 381 men began the first Ranger course that included women at the Ranger School at Fort Benning, Georgia. Two women and 94 men graduated in August.
The 62-day course, which teaches students “how to overcome fatigue, hunger, and stress to lead Soldiers during small unit combat operations,” includes training in woodlands, mountainous terrain and Florida swampland.
Army Rangers are rapidly deployable troops who often go after special operations targets. About 90 percent of senior Army infantry officers qualified as Rangers.
“Highlights of the course include a physical fitness test consisting of 49 push-ups, 59 sit-ups, a five mile run in 40 minutes, and six chin-ups; a swim test; a land navigation test; a 12-mile foot march in three hours; several obstacle courses; four days of military mountaineering; three parachute jumps; four air assaults on helicopters; multiple rubber boat movements; and 27 days of mock combat patrols,” an Army statement said last month.
The U.S. military began a process two years ago to open thousands of frontline combat jobs to women. The service branches have been developing gender-neutral requirements for all jobs in the military and evaluating whether to recommend that any remain closed to women.
The Army had faced resistance to allowing women to serve in combat units, but since such experience is a factor in job advancement, women have had greater difficulty than men in moving up to the top ranks, officials have said.
“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,” Chief of Staff of Army General Mark A. Milley said in the statement.
Women made up nearly 12 percent of U.S. forces deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. They represented about 2 percent of U.S. military deaths in those wars.
Reporting by Eric Walsh; Editing by Mohammad Zargham