With more and more emphasis on Special Operations throughout the military community, there is a need to fill these positions with capable soldiers. The U.S. Army alone is calling for approximately 5,000 soldiers to volunteer for USASOC slots. Some politicians and officials in the Pentagon would like to see a previously underutilized resource play an even larger role in filling these slots: women.
Standards will not be lowered for entry into units that have Special Operations capabilities. United States Army Chief of Staff General Ray Odierno said at a soldier town hall, “The main thing I’m focused on is the standards remain the same. In order to earn that tab, you have to do all the things necessary to earn that [Ranger] tab.” A statement by the Army reiterates what General Odierno said: “Female Ranger students would be graded and evaluated under the same standards as the male Ranger students.”
A Special Operations unit that currently has women in their ranks is the 160th SOAR. To date, three female pilots have successfully qualified to fly for the regiment, and they primarily fly the MH-60. Like everyone else, these pilots had to pass Green Platoon. Green Platoon has the same set of standards for everyone, regardless of gender, including participation in SERE training.
This upcoming April, 60 females will report to Fort Benning to begin Ranger School. They will be held to the same standard as their male counterparts: 49 push ups and 59 sit ups in two minutes, 6 palms-in pull-ups, a two-mile run in less than 15:12, a five mile run in 40 minutes or less, a ruck march of 16 miles with 65 pounds of gear in under 5 hours and 20 minutes, and a 15-meter swim (with gear).
While specific roles for women in Special Operations have yet to be determined, they have proven their worth in theater as part of cultural support teams. Women from these teams have been an invaluable asset to ODAs on the ground, providing rapport building, medical outreach, and humanitarian assistance. Women from CSTs have also paid the ultimate sacrifice while serving alongside Tier-One units.
For the Army, Special Operations organizations now open to women are (according to a 27 February, 2015 directive from Secretary of the Army John McHugh):
- Army Special Operations Command
- Army National Guard Special Forces Group (Airborne) Battalions
- MISO Command Tactical Psychological Teams
- Special Forces Military Free-Fall Operations and associated additional skill identifiers, 4X for officers and W8 for enlisted soldiers.
“With the downsizing of the Army, the relevance of Special Operations has never been greater,” said Major Jason Hetzel, commander of D Company in the Special Operations Recruiting Battalion (SORB).
Lt. Gen. Charles Cleveland, commander of U.S. Army Special Operations Command, echoed that sentiment in a statement: “Serving in Special Operations is a unique calling. Regardless of what the future might bring, what problems might exist, we will always be able to deliver the nation with world-class, unequaled special warfare and surgical-strike capabilities as long as we remain true to our first principles.”