For the first time ever, two women will graduate from the Army’s elite Ranger School, marking a major breakthrough for women in the U.S. armed services.
Military officials confirmed the news Monday evening (Aug. 17), but have not released the women’s names yet. According to NPR, they’re both lieutenants in their 20s who graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.
The two women will earn their coveted Ranger Tab on Friday, along with 94 male soldiers. The group of 96 was whittled down from 400 — 19 of them women — who began the course in April.
In January, the Army announced it had decided to allow women to participate in Ranger training for the first time since the program began in 1950. It was opened to them on an experimental basis as part of an ongoing effort to open front-line combat jobs to women.
Now, under order from the Pentagon, the military branches have until Jan. 1 to decide how to integrate women into jobs they’ve never had before. The two graduates’ success is expected to play a part in the Army’s decision about whether female soldiers should be able to serve as combat infantrymen.
In the meantime, the two women who graduate Friday will not be allowed to serve as infantry or armor officers, per existing military rules. They’ll also still be kept from allowing to try out for the 75th Ranger Regiment, an elite special operations force that remains closed to women.
The grueling Ranger program — during which soldiers survive on little food and sleep during 20-hour days — is considered the most physically demanding one in the military. About 4,000 soldiers attempt the course every year, but only two out of five graduate.
Ranger hopefuls move through three different phases, starting in Fort Benning, Ga., continuing in the Georgia mountains, and ending in the swampy Florida Panhandle. The whole program lasts a minimum of two months, though many soldiers repeat (or “recycle”) through the phases.
Secretary of the Army John M. McHugh congratulated the women in a press release, lauding their history-making achievement.
“Each Ranger School graduate has shown the physical and mental toughness to successfully lead organizations at any level,” he said in a statement. “This course has proven that every Soldier, regardless of gender, can achieve his or her full potential. We owe Soldiers the opportunity to serve successfully in any position where they are qualified and capable, and we continue to look for ways to select, train, and retain the best Soldiers to meet our Nation's needs.”