Female soldiers will be allowed to attend Ranger School in April as part of a one-time, integrated assessment, the Army announced Thursday.
The assessment is part of a wider effort to determine whether and how to open combat arms jobs to women. This assessment will be a first for the storied Ranger School, which until now has been open only to men.
"Secretary of the Army John McHugh approved the participation of both men and women in the spring 2015 Ranger course assessment," said Lt. Col. Ben Garrett, an Army spokesman, in a statement. "The assessment will be conducted during Ranger Course 06-15, which is scheduled to begin on April 20, 2015. The course has approximately 60 women scheduled to participate. Those who meet the standards and graduate from the course will receive a certificate and be awarded the Ranger tab."
Army leaders will closely monitor the pilot program, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno said Jan. 6 during a virtual town hall meeting with soldiers.
"We're just going to let the statistics speak for themselves as we go through this," he said, in response to a question from a soldier. "The main thing I'm focused on is the standards remain the same. In order to earn that tab, you have to do all the things necessary to earn that tab. We want to try a pilot to let women have the opportunity to do that."
The Army has not defined what a successful pilot should look like, Odierno said.
"We don't know if it's five people graduate, or 100 people graduate, or no one graduates," he said. "This is just a pilot to gain information for us to understand where we are, and then we'll take that data and make a determination on how we want to move forward."
Last fall, the Army issued two All-Army Activities 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.
The response from female soldiers wanting to attend Ranger School as students was so high that the service asked its commands and units to whittle down the list to 160 candidates.
The Army then allocated 160 seats at the two-week Army National Guard Ranger Training and Assessment Course, said Col. David Fivecoat, commander of the Airborne and Ranger Training Brigade at Fort Benning, Georgia.
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.
There will be 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 during an interview in December.
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.
However, not all of the 160 will end up attending Ranger School.
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 are returning 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.