Two female soldiers will graduate from the Army’s grueling Ranger School on Friday, becoming the first women to ever complete what is considered one of the U.S. military’s most difficult and premier courses to develop elite fighters and leaders, a senior Army official said.

The accomplishment marks a major breakthrough for women in the armed services at a time when each of the military branches is required to examine how to integrate women into jobs like infantryman in which they have never been allowed to serve. But even as the two female graduates will be the first women allowed to wear the prestigious Ranger Tab on their uniforms, they still are not allowed to try out for the elite 75th Ranger Regiment, a Special Operations force that remains closed to women and has its own separate, exhausting requirements and training.

The women will receive the Ranger Tab alongside dozens of male service members in a ceremony at Fort Benning, Georgia, the home of Ranger School’s headquarters, a senior Army official said Monday night. The official spoke on condition of anonymity while the Army finalized a news release.

The event is expected to draw not only family and friends, but hundreds of well-wishers and media from across the country. The female graduates are expected to speak to the media for the first time on Thursday alongside instructors and other soldiers at Ranger School.

The women have not been identified by the Army, but both are officers and graduates of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, Army officials said. The female graduates started Ranger School on April 20 alongside 380 men and 17 other female soldiers in the first class to ever include women. The female soldiers were allowed into Ranger School as part of the Army’s ongoing assessment of how to better integrate women.

Some skeptics, especially in the military, have questioned whether the women were given an easier path to graduation. But senior Army officials have insisted that is not the case, and opened Ranger School to media for a few days during each phase to underscore the point and allow Ranger instructors and others involved in the women’s evaluation to speak.

The course includes three phases: The Darby Phase at Fort Benning, the Mountain Phase in northern Georgia’s Chattahoochee National Forest, and the Florida Phase on and around Eglin Air Force Base on the Florida Panhandle. About 4,000 students attempt Ranger School each year, with some 1,600 – 40 percent – graduating. They include some service members who serve in the Ranger Regiment, but also many others who serve in jobs ranging from military police to helicopter pilot.

The course is 61 days for students who complete each phase on the first try. But only a minority do so. In the April class, for example, 37 of the 380 male students – about 10 percent – advanced directly through training, graduating earlier this summer. The remainder of the students have struggled more than that.

The 19 female students were whittled to eight in April during an initial assessment that includes everything from chin-ups to push-ups to a 12-mile march while carrying a full combat load. All eight women then failed the first Darby Phase twice, and only three were allowed to try Ranger School again.

Two of the three women left then passed through the Mountain Phase on the first try in July, and completed the 17-day Florida Phase over the weekend. The third woman was held back in the Mountain Phase last month; her status was not immediately clear on Monday.


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