Thirteen female officers are among the 65 lieutenants to graduate from the Army's first integrated Armor Basic Officer Leader Course, the Maneuver Center of Excellence announced on Thursday.
The women will follow up the 19-week course with the Army Reconnaissance Course and stints at Ranger, Stryker, Airborne or other schools before reporting to their platoons next summer, officials said.
"As long as you've got the heart and motivation, any soldier can succeed," Command Sgt. Maj. John Woodson, ABOLC's senior enlisted leader, said in a press conference at Fort Benning, Georgia. "It doesn't matter what gender you are. These 13 females, and the males, all proved that they can work together and accomplish the mission."
The women represent another milestone on the Army's path to full gender integration, following the first women to complete Ranger school in summer 2015 and the first to complete the Infantry Officer Basic Leader Course in October.
The Army has chosen to build up its ranks of female leaders first, followed by enlisted recruits in infantry and armor schools next year.
Since the Army began accepting women into its last closed military occupational specialties, leaders have fielded questions about whether women are up to the challenge and whether special accommodations have been made to push them through.
"There was some skepticism in the beginning. Just to see, can they do it?" said Staff Sgt. George Baker, an ABOLC instructor. "It’s a first. You’re always going to have that little bit there. But as soon as they started performing to those same standards – we didn’t change anything. They met and exceeded those standards and it solidified that they have a place here."
The class started with 75 participants back in July. Two women and six men were recycled, according to the Armor School commandant, while two men were medically eliminated.
"They performed at the same rate as their male peers in all of those [High Physical Demands Test] tasks, as well as the tasks that make up the program of instruction for BOLC," Brig. Gen. John Kolasheski said. "About the same percentage male and female passed or didn’t pass in terms of some of the academic rigor."
Asked what kind of guidance or support the Army has given to these women, who could now be singled out for rocking the boat, Maneuver Center of Excellence commander Maj. Gen. Eric Wesley said the Army tends to close ranks in the face of that dynamic.
"We want them to succeed, we want to empower them, and there’s no need to create individual fame or distinct identities that then makes them further vulnerable to those in the blogosphere, etc.," he said.
But individually, he added, he has offered some advice.
"When I’ve talked to some of our lieutenants individually, one of the things I tell them is whenever you change the dynamics of an institution – no matter what – any leader that drives change for the better, there’s going to be heat and there’s going to be friction because some people don’t like change," he said. "But what we’ve clearly identified here is that this change is good and it makes the Army better."
The Armor school's enlisted courses, for both 19D Cavalry Scouts and 19K Armor Crewman, will open in February and March, respectively, Kolasheski said.