The following was written by Rudy Mac, a Ranger-qualified, company-grade infantry officer serving on active duty in a light unit in the U.S. Army.
By the time most of you read this story, 96 newly tabbed Rangers and their friends and families will be celebrating the completion of one of the most arduous and demanding courses that the Army has to offer. For them, this coming weekend will undoubtedly involve hours of some of the most satisfying sleep of their lives, interspersed with exorbitant feasts of all of the foods that they have been dreaming about, talking about, and listing in their Rite In The Rain notebooks for weeks and weeks.
They will return to their units with a few new skills and a better understanding of small-unit tactics, but more importantly with a new confidence in themselves and their fellow tabbed Rangers. They will be marked for the rest of their careers with a $1.80 strip of cloth that tells whomever they meet that when tested with adversity, pain, and discomfort, they can be trusted to find a way to get the job done and complete the mission. For the first time in history, two women will pin on this badge of survival and perseverance, and you know what? They f*****g earned it. Every last thread of it.
I started and finished Ranger School this year with Class 06-15, although since I neither recycled nor had to endure a winter phase of the course, my tab should probably be just a little bit smaller than the tabs that many of my peers wear. We were the first gender-integrated Ranger School class, starting on April 19th, with 19 female and 381 male students.
Since my graduation, I have followed the progress of these remaining female Rangers with interest. Although virtually all of the discussion I have heard surrounding their advancement through the course has been pretty positive up to this week, since the Washington Post broke the story of Ranger Griest and Ranger Haver getting their go’s in Florida, I have read and heard an increasing amount of bad-mouthing from a plethora of haters, dismissing their accomplishment as the product of slipping standards or some ultra-liberal, feminist plot by the government and Army leadership. I am speaking out to tell you that these insinuations could not be further from the truth. Ranger School is still hard, and these women earned their tabs.
Before I discuss my own subjective opinions, let’s talk about the numbers, starting with my class (Class 06-15). In 06-15, we started 400 Ranger students in April and graduated fewer than 100 in June. Twenty-eight of us (that’s seven percent), went straight through the course without recycling. In Darby Phase, our recycle rate was almost 75 percent—the highest for the phase in over five years. In my squad of 17 Ranger students, only four of us went forward to Mountain Phase. Another squad in my company (Alpha Company) sent only two of 17 forward. In Mountain and again in Florida, we only had enough students for one platoon in my company. I believe the same was true of Bravo and Charlie.
For those who have claimed that the packing list was reduced for this year to make patrols easier: We weighed our rucks before the Mountains FTX and the Florida FTX. My ruck was 85 pounds at the start of Mountains as a team leader and over 100 pounds at the start of Florida as a SAW gunner. For the past three classes of the course (06-15, 07-15, and 08-15), the course graduation rate has been about 30 percent, much lower than the average for FY10-FY14 of 42 percent, and significantly lower than the historical average of nearly 50 percent. If you believe that the standards at Ranger School have been lowered for recent classes in order to pass the women who attended, you are simply wrong. The numbers reflect what the Ranger Training Brigade officers and NCOs have been saying for months now: The standards at Ranger School are as high or higher right now than they have been in many, many years.
Now, let’s discuss the process that the Infantry School went through to select and prepare female soldiers to attend the course. After the Army sent out the ALARACT message looking for female Ranger School volunteers, they had nearly 400 female soldiers express a desire to attend the course. One hundred and nine of those female soldiers eventually attended the RTAC, the ARNG Warrior Training Center’s two week Pre-Ranger Course, which is second only to the 75th Ranger Regiment’s SURT (Small Unit Ranger Tactics) Pre-Ranger Course in terms of success rate at Ranger School. Several of the women who failed RTAC went back and tried again, for a total of 138 attempts by female students.
Twenty female Ranger Students eventually passed RTAC, and 19 of those 20 started Ranger School with Class 06-15 on April 19th. From this point on, anyone who has followed the story probably knows what transpired. Eight of those 19 female students passed RAP (Ranger Assessment Phase) Week at Camp Rogers, where about 60 percent of Ranger School failures historically occur. All eight went to Camp Darby with Class 06-15 and were either recycled into Class 07-15 or dropped from training. After another Darby Phase with Class 07-15, again, none of the female students received their go’s, and three remained in the course to start over as day one recycles with class 08-15. As an aside, during RAP week with class 08-15, Ranger Kristen Griest finished second out of the entire class on the 12 mile ruck—an astounding achievement, especially considering that she had just gone through RAP week, two Darby phases, and another RAP week, all back-to-back. CPT Griest and 1LT Haver went straight through the rest of the course with class 08-15, finally earning their Ranger Tabs today after 124 days in Ranger School.
Lastly, for what it’s worth, I would like to offer my own impressions of what our class was like with female students in RAP week and at Darby. Unlike many, I didn’t doubt that some female soldiers in our Army would at least have a decent shot at getting their tabs. There are a whole lot of female collegiate, professional, and Olympic athletes who can PT a whole lot better than me, so why shouldn’t they be able to at least come close to passing a course like Ranger School? Like many, however, I was somewhat skeptical that the cadre at RTB could successfully administer a course with extremely close living quarters and significant field time like Ranger School without compromising the integrity of the training.
I quickly found, however, that the gender issue was a non-issue. The barracks at Camp Rogers are shaped like a ‘U’, with a latrine and shower facilities forming the center of the U, connecting two long bays of bunk beds and wall lockers, with doors at the end of the bays. The female students in our company slept towards one end of the bay, where an enclave of wall lockers formed an area for them to hurriedly change in when the need arose. In the latrines, during the absurdly short time hacks we were given to use the bathroom, the women simply walked past the men and used the stalls. After the first real smoke session of the week on day one, nobody cared much about using the same latrine. We were all just Ranger students.
During the few times we were able to take showers, the cadre dedicated the showers on one side of the bay to female students for one quarter of the shower period, and a Ranger instructor and female NCO stood in the center of the ‘U’ to avoid confusion. RAP week passed and we were on to Darby. In Darby, the female students in our company dispelled any doubts of their ability to hump weight on patrols during the first few days in the field. If I remember correctly, Ranger Griest carried the M240 for her squad on day one of patrols and another female in her squad carried the radio as the RTO. The next day of patrols, they switched, with Ranger Griest humping the radio and the other female student carrying the M240. Physically, they were studs. They carried their own weight and then some.
In the two months since I have graduated, I have spoken with countless fellow tabbed Rangers on the topic, both from my class and from previous classes. Every morning, my Facebook news feed is filled with statuses from my peers, with links to articles on the topic and discussions on the progress of the females left in the course. We are universally in awe of what these two female Rangers have accomplished. Everyone I have talked to is of one mind. They earned it. Without the same wide shoulders, large frames, and high testosterone levels of their brother Rangers, they earned it. Unfortunately, the naysayers will continue to talk trash and belittle CPT Griest and 1LT Haver’s historic accomplishment. In response, I would like to close with a recent quote from MAJ Jim Hathaway, the current RTB executive officer:
No matter what we at Ranger School say, the non-believers will still be non-believers. We could have invited each of you to guest walk the entire course, and you would still not believe, we could have video recorded every patrol and you would still say that we “gave” it away. Nothing we say will change your opinion. I and the rest of our cadre are proud of the conduct of our soldiers, NCOs, and officers; they took the mission assigned and performed to the Ranger standard. Rangers Lead the Way!
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