Female soldiers at Fort Bliss training, hoping to earn berths at Ranger School
FORT BLISS, Texas (Tribune News Service) — Eight female soldiers at Fort Bliss have been training and getting mentoring in the hopes of making some history and showing they are among the best in the Army.
Since December, these women have been working to potentially be among the first female soldiers to become rangers — elite infantry soldiers who have been trained in advanced tactics and leadership. There are only about 7,000 ranger-qualified soldiers Army-wide, Fort Bliss officials said.
One of the Fort Bliss women, 1st Lt. Kristen Moores, graduated from the Ranger Assessment Training Course, or the pre-ranger course, at Fort Benning, Ga., in January and will be included in the first group of women to attend Ranger School in April, said Capt. Nathan Rogowski, who is serving as her mentor and is training the Fort Bliss women who are trying to become rangers.
"I'm very excited about it," Moores said. "It's an amazing opportunity."
Two other Fort Bliss women, 1st Lt. Autumn Tolliver and 1st Lt. Melinda Fortin, also attended the pre-ranger course and just missed qualifying for Ranger School, Rogowski said. They will return to the pre-ranger course in March and try again, he said.
About 60 slots for women will be available Army-wide when the Ranger School at Fort Benning takes women for the first time in April, Rogowski said. Women will be held to the same standards as men, he added. The traditional pass rate for men who attend Ranger School is about 50 percent, he said.
Moores was one of five women who qualified in January out of 26 at the pre-ranger course.
"She was mentally prepared and physically prepared ahead of time, so when she got there, it wasn't a matter of, 'Can I do this task? Can I do this physical stuff?' She knew (she could do it), and she had already decided she was going to do it," said Rogowski, a company commander with 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division and a ranger himself.
The pre-ranger course is a 14-day condensed version of Ranger School, which typically lasts 60 to 90 days.
Moores successfully demonstrated that she can meet all the requirements of the Ranger School while there. These included assembling and disassembling weapons, being able to lead an ambush, an attack or conduct reconnaissance and meeting all the physical fitness standards. Rangers must be able to complete a minimum of 49 push-ups in two minutes, 59 sit-ups in two minutes, run 5 miles in under 40 minutes and do at least six chin-ups.
Attending the pre-ranger course was an "eye-opener," said Moores, a native of Gaithersburg, Md., and an intelligence officer with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, Combat Aviation Brigade.
"It was one of the most physically and mentally demanding courses I've been to," Moores said. "I think the fact that everyone's eyes were on us (the women who were there) probably put a little bit of added pressure, but it was great in a sense that it taught us what to look for and what to study for."
The pre-course gave her an idea of what she needs to work on before she returns to Fort Benning in April, she said.
"It is a chance to learn to be a better officer, no matter what branch you are in, and learn to be a better leader for your soldiers," Moores said. "It's a chance to push my limits, test myself and see how far I can go."
Female candidates are required to attend the pre-ranger course, while men are strongly urged to do so, Rogowski said.
Soldiers who attend Ranger School are pushed to the maximum and are tested mentally and physically so it can be determined if they are able to "ranger up" and complete the mission, Rogowski said.
During the past decade, many women have served in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, he said. Being able to earn a spot at Ranger School allows women to test themselves to their "absolute limits," Rogowski said.
"Doing this will make them better" soldiers and leaders, Rogowski said.
Moores and the other soldiers in the group still do their regular military jobs, but also work with Rogowski and do their physical training with him and practice the type of tactics and techniques they will be tested on at the pre-ranger course and at Ranger School.
Sgt. Megan Milillo is another one of the group who is hoping to make it to Ranger School. Milillo, of St. Petersburg, Fla., is a civil affairs noncommissioned officer with the 80th Civil Affairs Battalion at Fort Bliss. Her goal is to go to the pre-ranger course this spring.
"It's important," she said. "Females have been in combat zones for a long time and we are exposed to the same threats as any male soldier. We should be able to go apply ourselves, train and get the knowledge that we need to face combat if it comes to that. "
©2015 the El Paso Times (El Paso, Texas). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC