As of this Sunday, females are now allowed to attend the U.S. Army Ranger School on a trial basis. The integration faces challenges as some praise the new opportunity while others are worried about the Army lowering standards or are concerned about male and female dynamics in such a rough environment.
“I don’t care if you’re a man, woman, Black, Asian, Hispanic … if you can do the job, that’s what matters. You are a soldier first. If you are qualified, you should have the opportunity,” James Kelley, career Infantryman and senior military science instructor at Wheaton, said.
On April 20, a select group of females were allowed to attend one of the world’s most grueling military courses, the United States Army Ranger School. Ranger School is a combat leadership course. It is primarily geared for those in the infantry branch as it teaches ground tactics, though it is open to many soldiers.
For over two months at Ranger school, Ranger candidates are tested to their physical and mental limits. Traditionally, in the first four days, up to 20 percent of the Ranger class drops out. For those who pass, the next 57 days are marred by both sleep and food deprivation. Ranger candidates sleep an average of four hours a night, eat two meals a day, and carry 45 pounds of equipment everywhere they go. What motivates soldiers to volunteer for this experience? This training teaches and hones necessary skills for leading in combat. Up until now, this opportunity has only been afforded to men.
The effort to integrate women into Ranger school is a part of a broader Defense Department assessment of how the military can open more jobs to women. Reactions and acceptance the integration are likely to be mixed across the Army. Lieutenant Colonel James Hoyman, professor of Military Science at Wheaton College, said, “I strongly believe that women are physically and emotionally capable to excel in the course. A significant challenge will be navigating the strong male culture of the Infantry and Ranger School. With time, culture change is possible.”
In light of this change, Wheaton ROTC alumni and current and prospective cadets face new possibilities in their futures. Wheaton College is a host program for an Army Reserve Officer Training Corps battalion. Wheaton hosts seven other Chicagoland Schools to create the Rolling Thunder Battalion. There are roughly 127 cadets, 29 of which are female.
If the trial is successful, female cadets that graduate Wheaton’s ROTC program and commission as officers from Wheaton’s program may have the opportunity to attend this school and wear the coveted Ranger tab on their uniform. In the military culture, the Ranger tab demands respect. In the male dominated combat culture, a woman donning a Ranger tab on her left shoulder would demonstrate her equity with her male counterparts.
Freshman Hanna Walton joined ROTC as a means to push herself. “I’ve always liked physical challenges, and I knew the Army would provide opportunities to meet my physical goals in interesting and new ways,” she said, adding, “I didn’t think about Ranger School before. I don’t really know much about it. But if I think I had what it took, it’d be denying my gifts not to consider it.”
Other cadets felt differently. Sophomore Abby Burgdorf has the highest fitness score in the battalion. The Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT) has different standards for males and females, but Burgdorf is capable of a perfect score on the male scale. Nonetheless, she said, “I do not have a desire to go, and I do not think I am physically or mentally capable of successfully completing it. I am not against opening up Ranger School to females, but the standards need to be the same for both men and women.”
By opening to a wider pool of candidates, junior Jonathan Lait believes the Army will benefit from the new skills soldiers bring. “Both of my parents were in the Army and went through the same training. My mom was top of her class and scored significantly higher than my dad. She is able to quickly analyze a situation and implement an innovative plan,” he said.
A Wheaton College ROTC graduate, second lieutenant of Infantry Ben Baker, is in the first class of integrated candidates at Ranger School this April. Prior to leaving for Ranger School, he participated in an integrated Ranger Training Assessment Course at Fort Benning. He was “impressed” with the way everyone handled the integration process. “The cadre held everyone to the same standard, and the males and females interacted professionally,” he said.
After successfully completing RTAC and anticipating the challenges of Ranger School, Baker said, “It doesn’t matter who is on my team. We’re going to get through it together and pass.”
Editor’s Note: Elena Fritz is a member of the Wheaton College ROTC program.