Just days before completing his tenure, Army Secretary John McHugh defended the Army's decision to open Ranger School and outlined data that showed female candidates performed just as well - and in some cases better than - their male peers. Mchugh was responding to allegations the service eased the standards for the first women to complete the famously grueling course.
Rep. Steve Russell, a retired lieutenant colonel and Ranger graduate, in September asked the Army to release documents relating to the performance of the first female students in Ranger School. Russell requested the female soldiers' spot reports, test scores, evaluations, injuries and pre-training history.
In an Oct. 20 letter to Russell, McHugh wrote that most student records are not retained after graduation. Instead, in a practice dating back to 1952, the Airborne and Ranger Training Brigade keeps a Ranger student's "Green Card," which verifies their attempt or successful completion of the course.
McHugh, who stepped down as secretary Nov. 1, likened it to a university transcript, which does not include "every test or paper that a student completes within a course."
"The Army takes exception to your characterization of this standard operating procedure as demonstrating a 'lack of due care' or the implication that this practice is somehow nefarious in either deed or motive," McHugh wrote in the letter, provided to Army Times by Russell's office.
McHugh also wrote that the Army cannot provide the "Green Cards" for the Ranger students "outside of a formal request from an appropriate oversight committee, as the Privacy Act would require almost full redaction of all information on each document, rendering them effectively useless."
Russell is working with the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and the House Armed Services Committee to take necessary steps and obtain the records, according to a source in the congressman's office.
McHugh, in his letter, said the Army's gender-integrated assessment and subsequent opening of Ranger School was a decision "to allow women the opportunity to prove their own abilities within the Ranger course."
Along with McHugh's letter, the Army also provided to Russell's office an information paper about Ranger School and how some of the students – male and female – performed. The information showed that the female Ranger students performed just as well as, or in some cases better than, their male peers.
Some highlights based on a "representative sample" of "Green Cards" from the integrated Ranger classes since May, include:
• The Distinguished Honor Graduate for Ranger Class 8-15, which graduated Aug. 21, had an average score of 90/100 on peer evaluations, no spot reports or failed patrols. The Enlisted Honor Graduate had an average score of 83/100 on peer evaluations, no spot reports or failed patrols.
• The first two female students to graduate from Ranger School each recycled an equal number of phases, passed four patrols and failed three patrols. One female student failed a patrol in each phase, but only the failed patrols in the Mountain and Swamp Phases counted towards her patrol assessment. ARTB standard operating procedures state that Benning Phase no-gos do not count towards a student's overall course patrol. The other female student failed one patrol in the Mountain Phase and two patrols in the Florida Phase.
• The first two female graduates scored an average of 83/100 and 77/100, respectively, on their peer evaluations and received more total spot reports — both positive and negative — than the average male student in the sample from their graduating class.
• Three male students who graduated in that same class scored an average of 71-75/100 on their peer evaluations, failed two to three patrols each, received no positive spot reports and received up to four major negative sport reports.
• No female students were dropped from the gender-integrated assessment for medical conditions.
In his initial request to the Army, Russell wrote that "the training of our combat warriors is paramount to our national defense. ... In order to ensure that the Army retains its ability to defend the nation, we must ensure that our readiness is not sacrificed."
Russell, who was not available Wednesday for comment, has also addressed the issue on his Facebook page.
"The records request on the recent Ranger classes that included females is to investigate serious allegations that are being made by members of the military," Russell wrote in the post. "No one wanted to touch this issue. As one of only two Ranger-qualified members of the House, I asked for the records to determine the nature of the allegations. The investigation should show whether there was any wrong-doing or it will lay it to rest."
Russell, a Republican from Oklahoma who served 21 years in the Army and earned a Bronze Star with Valor device, was elected to Congress in 2014. He led 1st Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment during its deployment to Tikrit, Iraq. He retired as a lieutenant colonel, according to his bio on his website.
Capt. Kristen Griest and 1st Lt. Shaye Haver, both of them West Point graduates, made history Aug. 21 by becoming the first women to graduate from the storied Ranger School and earn the right to wear the distinctive black and gold tab.
Maj. Lisa Jaster graduated Oct. 16.
The women were part of a gender-integrated assessment of the school, which until earlier this year had been open only to men. In all, 19 women started Ranger School in April. Griest, Haver and Jaster were the only ones to complete the course.
Critics have for months accused the Army of lowering the standards of Ranger School or giving the female students an unfair advantage by allowing them multiple attempts at the school's three phases.
The criticism online and in social media has been so persistent that Maj. Gen. Scott Miller, commanding general of the Maneuver Center of Excellence, addressed the complaints during the Aug. 21 Ranger School graduation, calling out the "noisy and inaccurate" online critics.
"Ladies and gentlemen, [Ranger Assessment Phase] week has not changed. Standards remain the same," Miller said. "The five-mile run is still five miles. The 12-mile march is still 12 miles."
The required weight of the students' rucksacks have stayed the same, "the mountains of Dahlonega are still here, the swamps remain intact," he said.
The Army on Sept. 2 announced that Ranger School is now open to all qualified soldiers regardless of gender. The first integrated class since that announcement kicked off Nov.2. The five women who started the course did not qualify to move on past the Ranger Assessment Phase, commonly known as RAP week, according to media reports.