The U.S. Army has announced that its Army Ranger School will be open to women permanently less than a month after two women successfully completed the training
during a trial run.
"We must ensure that this training opportunity is available to all soldiers who are qualified and capable," Secretary of the Army John McHugh said in a press release. "We continue to look for ways to select, train and retain the best soldiers to meet our nation's needs."
Female rangers will have to meet the same tough physical requirements as men, the Army stressed.
The decision does not reverse the ban on women in the Ranger Regiment or other roles considered ground combat. In 2013, the Pentagon ordered all U.S. Armed Services to allow women in combat roles by 2016.
The military services can request that exceptions be made, provided they are justified by operational constraints.
Defense Secretary Ashton Carter will have the last word on which positions will remain closed to women, in January 2016.
But the service chiefs appear to be leaning in favor of a total or near total opening of their forces to women, provided they meet the same physical requirements as men.
Admiral Jon Greenert, the outgoing chief of naval operations, for instance has come out in favor of allowing women into the Navy's SEALs, the elite force famous for killing Osama bin Laden.
Capt. Kristen Griest and 1st Lt. Shaye Haver graduated the 61-day test of stength and endurace, both physical an mental, on August 21 at Fort Benning, Georgia.
They were among 19 women who started the course on April 19. Of the 381 men who started the course, 94 graduated with Griest and Haver.
Though women still cannot be involved in combat, just earning the tab is a mark of distinction that can set a young officer on a track toward top commands.
Army Rangers are rapidly deployable troops who often go after special operations targets. About 90 percent of senior Army infantry officers qualified as Rangers.
"Highlights of the course include a physical fitness test consisting of 49 push-ups, 59 sit-ups, a five mile run in 40 minutes, and six chin-ups; a swim test; a land navigation test; a 12-mile foot march in three hours; several obstacle courses; four days of military mountaineering; three parachute jumps; four air assaults on helicopters; multiple rubber boat movements; and 27 days of mock combat patrols," an Army statement said last month.
The U.S. military began a process two years ago to open thousands of frontline combat jobs to women. The service branches have been developing gender-neutral requirements for all jobs in the military and evaluating whether to recommend that any remain closed to women.
The Army had faced resistance to allowing women to serve in combat units, but since such experience is a factor in job advancement, women have had greater difficulty than men in moving up to the top ranks, officials have said.
"Giving every qualified soldier the opportunity to attend the Ranger Course, the Army's premier small unit leadership school, ensures we are maintaining our combat readiness today, tomorrow and for future generations," Chief of Staff of Army General Mark A. Milley said in the statement.
Women made up nearly 12 percent of U.S. forces deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. They represented about 2 percent of U.S. military deaths in those wars.
Reuters and AFP contributed to this report.
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