Three women pass 1st patrol phase of Ranger School

by Chuck Williams
Columbus (Ga.) Ledger-Enquirer

COLUMBUS, Ga. (Tribune News Service) — The three women remaining in Ranger School have successfully completed the first patrol phase and will move this weekend to the north Georgia mountains to continue the U.S. Army's most physically and mentally challenging leadership training course, it was announced Friday.

The women are part of the first gender-integrated course in the 60-plus year history of Ranger School. They started the program April 19 with 16 other women trying to become the first to earn the Ranger tab, held by about 3 percent of all the Army's soldiers. The three remaining women, who the Army has not identified, completed the Camp Darby patrol phase after previously failing it twice. When they failed it a second time in late May, they were offered what the Army terms a "Day 1 recycle," which meant they had to start the course over from the beginning.

The women restarted the course June 21 and have been in the school for 83 days. The class they started with in April graduated June 19.

About 30 percent of all Ranger students complete the course without having to recycle at least one phase of the four-part training. It starts with Ranger Physical Assessment, in which students must do a number of physical tests that include a 12-mile march with almost 50 pounds of gear and water in under three hours and a land navigation test.

The next phase will be at Camp Merrill, near Dahlonega, Ga. It will be a continuation of the small-unit patrols the soldiers have been doing on Camp Darby, an outpost on the far eastern reaches of Fort Benning. After the mountain phase is completed, the final phase of the training is held at Camp Rudder in the swamps near Destin, Fla.

The mountain phase will last about two weeks.

Retired Command Sgt. Maj. Dennis L. Smith, whose last assignment was with the Airborne and Ranger Training Brigade at Fort Benning and ended in 2012, said the mountain phase is the toughest part of the course.

"By the time you get to the mountains, there is a cumulative affect on the body," Smith said. "The rucks get heavier, and the bodies get smaller."

Less than 50 percent of the men who volunteer for Ranger School pass the course. Those odds increase every time a phase is successfully completed, Smith said.

"There is about a 65 percent success rate once someone passes RAP (Ranger Assessment Phase) and that goes up when you get out of Darby," Smith said. "By the time you get to Florida, the success rate is 90 percent or more."

The road to this point for the three remaining women has not been easy. The Army has maintained that the standards for the course have not been altered. The women are required to carry the same loads, perform the same tasks and meet the same demanding physical requirements as the male soldiers.

When the three women were given the opportunity to restart the course, that offer was also extended to two male soldiers in the same class. All three women took the opportunity to recycle, and the two men decided to leave the course. Airborne and Ranger Training Brigade Command Sgt. Maj. Curtis Arnold said last month the offers to the women would not have been extended if there were not a chance they could complete the training.

"We believe that they are close enough if they start again that there would be a success," Arnold said at the time.

There were eight female soldiers who started the Camp Darby phase in late April, Five of those women were dropped from the course May 29 after failing the Darby phase for the second time.

Small-until patrols are the core of the Darby training, and those patrols are done as soldiers are deprived of sleep and food.

"You are talking about extended movement through the woods and rolling terrain," Arnold said of the Darby patrols. "You are given a mission. That mission is to conduct a raid/ambush/squad attack on an objective. You have to come up with a route to get from Point A to Point B, tell everyone the plan, react to contact en route, complete the mission, exit off objective and go to the patrol base and reset for the next mission."

The patrols are designed to be completed in 24 hours or less. During that 24-hour period, they are changing the leadership within the organization at least twice.

Those patrols will continue to be at the heart of the training when the course moves to the mountains and into the Florida swamps.

One of the ways Ranger School students are graded is through peer evaluations from those in their small units.

"I don't know this, but I would suspect they all did pretty well on their peers," Smith said. "They had all been through it twice, and those in their units should have leaned on them pretty heavily. If they didn't, they were not very smart."

The April 19 Ranger School class was initially the only one that the Army said would admit female soldiers. Opening a Ranger School class to women is part of the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command Soldier 2020 effort. The plan aims to integrate women into previously closed military occupational specialties. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno said in May the Army is looking at allowing female soldiers to attend "a couple more" classes of Ranger School.

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