Ranger school was something we joked about my first summer attending cadet basic training. The guys would say, “You’re going to be the first female ranger” – as a joke. Well, of course. We all knew that there was no way women were ever going to Ranger school. When I saw a ranger tab (a decoration that shows the completion of a military school and is worn on the left sleeve of the Army Combat Uniform), I felt automatic respect for the person wearing it. He went through a grueling 60 days of physical and mental stress. Pushing himself to the limit. According to the Ranger Training Brigade, the overall graduation rate for the past 6 years has been 50.13%. That means 1 out of every 2 people do not even make it through, and they’re supposed to be some of the top soldiers in the infantry. The Rangers that I have had the privilege of meeting during my short time in the Army have all been incredible people. Now, however, many are talking about ditching their ranger tabs the moment the first women enter Ranger school in 2013.
I’m torn about this decision to open Ranger school to women. On one hand, I firmly believe that women should be allowed to do anything they choose. If they can meet and uphold all of the same standards as men then they should be able to go. This means scoring well on the male Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT). The current minimum push-up standard for males ages 17-21 is 42 push-ups, which is currently the female maximum. The 2-mile run is also similar. The male minimum is 15:54 while the female maximum is 15:36. The only thing that both the male and female APFT have in common is the sit-up rate. For Ranger school you also need to be able to run 5 miles in 40 minutes, and do the 6 pull-ups required to pass the Ranger Physical Fitness Test. Additionally, women need to be able to carry the same weight as the men. If someone goes down, a woman would need to be just as capable at getting him to safety as any other guy.
Rangers are known as the best of the best. They focus on light infantry tactics – which brings up another point. Women are currently not allowed to go combat arms, which includes infantry and armor. So why send females to Ranger School when they will never use the majority of the things they are taught? Possibly for the same reason other soldiers go to Ranger school who are not prepping for the infantry. Ranger School is one of the world’s premier leadership schools. Women may not be allowed in the infantry, but they still lead in high stress environments, and going through Ranger school could help them save someone’s life.
Take for instance Cadet Field Training at West Point. It is a 27-day course that cadets are required to complete their second summer at West Point. We spent close to 20 days on light infantry related tactics, 1 day on the field artillery branch, and 1 day on the engineers branch. Women have to complete all the same training as men even though we are not allowed to enter the infantry. In all honesty it really does not matter that we cannot enter the infantry, because it is more about developing our leadership skills and pushing ourselves under stressful situations. Situations that are mentally and physically straining in the present make soldiers capable of making decisions when it matters later. Or maybe admitting women into Ranger school may be the ticket that finally gets women into the infantry. Once women prove that they can survive Ranger school they may prove that they have what it takes to contribute on the frontlines.
There is talk about how standards will be lowered when women enter. Retired Colonel Longgrear said in an article that “a women can not make it through Ranger school unless we lower the standards.” Admitting women may change Ranger School. If there is interest want to change the standards then they might as well change the name. Also, when the first group goes through, will a certain amount be guaranteed to graduate? Half of the men already fail out, so it is possible that even more women would fail. If they start guaranteeing graduation then it’s almost as if they are just handing out Ranger tabs. These are a few of the things that many people are torn about.
If a woman can go through Ranger school with the exact same standards, then by all means let her be a Ranger. If standards start to change, then so does the meaning of being a Ranger.
Katlin VanWye is a cadet at West Point. She is originally from a small dairy farm in Ashley, Indiana who is currently interning at the Service Women’s Action Network.