So many women volunteered to attend Ranger School that the Army is now asking its commands and units to whittle down the list to 160 candidates.
"We were very pleased with the response," said Col. David Fivecoat, commander of the Airborne and Ranger Training Brigade at Fort Benning, Georgia. "There's a good deal of interest out there. The interest was larger than the number of seats we have."
The response was so good – Fivecoat declined to say how many female soldiers volunteered – that the Army has released a new All-Army Activities message that allocates 160 seats at the two-week Army National Guard Ranger Training and Assessment Course.
The Army is requiring all female soldiers who want to attend the two-month Ranger School to complete the pre-Ranger course, which takes place at Fort Benning.
Earlier this fall, the Army issued two ALARACT messages calling for female soldiers interested in attending Ranger School as students or as observer/advisors. Thirty-one women – 11 officers and 20 noncommissioned officers – out of 46 applicants were selected to be observer/advisors after a weeklong assessment in November.
This effort is part of a larger assessment to determine whether and how to open combat arms military occupational specialties to women.
Senior Army leaders are expected to decide in January if the service will move forward with a one-time integrated Ranger School assessment. In the meantime, the Army needed to move forward because it will need volunteers already in place and ready to go if the assessment takes place.
If it's given the go-ahead, the assessment will be a first for the storied Ranger School, which until now has been open only to men.
Based on the number of volunteers interested in attending Ranger School, the Army has allocated 40 seats for female candidates in each iteration of the Ranger Training and Assessment Course between January and April, Fivecoat said.
Each major command, service component command or direct reporting unit, such as Forces Command, the Army Guard, Training and Doctrine Command, Medical Command, Army Europe, and Army South, will be given a set number of seats for each month's cycle of the pre-Ranger course, Fivecoat said.
"It's up to the units to figure out how they want to build their order of merit list to come to RTAC," he said.
Officials arrived at a total of 160 candidates based on the interest level and the capacity at the pre-Ranger course, which will still need to be able to accommodate male candidates as well, he said.
For Ranger School, which runs 11 times a year, the training brigade can accommodate up to 400 students. Typical classes number in the 300s, Fivecoat said.
"We typically will not accept more than 400 folks because I have 400 beds to put people in," he said.
On average, about 45 percent of Ranger School students will graduate, Fivecoat said. As many as 60 percent of all Ranger School failures will occur in the first four days. Many get disqualified during the physical fitness test on the first day, Fivecoat said. The test gives candidates two minutes to do 49 push-ups and two minutes to do 59 sit-ups, and they also must run five miles in 40 minutes and do six chin-ups.
In fiscal 2014, PT test failures made up the largest number of Ranger School failures, Fivecoat said.
As for the 31 soldiers selected to be observer/advisors, they will return to Fort Benning in January, Fivecoat said.
They will receive some training, including orientation to the training brigade, combat lifesaver certification and a tactics certification course, before they're sent to their specific assignments, Fivecoat said.
The observer/advisors assigned to the battalion and brigade levels will boost the brigade's ability to accommodate the influx of students.
"We're a pretty lean organization, so they're going to help us with the normal stuff that a unit has to do, between Power Point and building orders," Fivecoat said.
The 18 observer/advisors selected to work at the company level will begin working alongside the all-male Ranger Instructor cadre at Fort Benning, Dahlonega, Georgia, and Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. They will get to observe two all-male Ranger School classes, Fivecoat said.
"They'll get an appreciation for what an all-male class looks like during the run-up to the chief's decision on if we're going to actually execute this," he said.
Michelle Tan is the editor of Army Times and Air Force Times. She has covered the military for Military Times since 2005, and has embedded with U.S. troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Haiti, Gabon and the Horn of Africa.