A female lieutenant who flies Apache helicopters successfully completed the February rotation of the Ranger Training Assessment Course, and she now joins five other women who have so far qualified to attend Ranger School this spring.
A total of 100 soldiers — 17 of them women — started the course, which took place Feb. 6-21 at Fort Benning, Georgia.
Thirty-six soldiers successfully completed the two-week course, said Maj. Gen. Scott Miller, commanding general of the Maneuver Center of Excellence and Fort Benning.
The success rate for this month's rotation was "considerably lower" than normal, said Maj. William "Shep" Woodard, commander of A Company, Army National Guard Warrior Training Center, which runs RTAC.
The typical completion rate for RTAC is about 57 percent, he said.
"For whatever reason, this was an underperforming class for men as well as women," he said.
The most common reasons soldiers dropped out or failed to meet the requirements were:
• Road march
All of the drops happened in the first week of RTAC, Woodard said.
It's too early and the population too small so far to pinpoint any specific trends, Miller said.
"What we're starting to see, if soldiers fail RTAC for some reason, you have pushups, you have some lack of motivation [where] someone says 'this is not for me' and pulls out," he said.
There also have been some soldiers dropped for medical reasons, and "we're looking closely at the medical drops," Miller said.
Many women candidates — six in this February class — who did not meet the requirements for RTAC are opting to stay and complete the two-week course anyway, Woodard said.
"They continued to take advantage of that opportunity," he said. "Even though only one was successful, they seem to see the intrinsic value of the training and opt to stay."
The female lieutenant who successfully completed the February RTAC is an aviator from Fort Carson, Colorado, he said. She is an Apache pilot, according to an Army release on Tuesday.
The Army announced in January that it plans to conduct a one-time, integrated assessment at its storied Ranger School in April.
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 two-month Ranger School, which until now has been open only to men.
Women who successfully complete Ranger School will receive a certificate and be awarded the coveted Ranger tab. They will not, however, be assigned to the 75th Ranger Regiment, which is separate from Ranger School.
To prepare for the assessment in April, the Army is requiring female candidates to attend the two-week Army National Guard Ranger Training and Assessment Course. There will be up to 40 seats for female candidates in each iteration of the course between January and April. The course has historically been a strong indicator of whether a candidate will be successful at Ranger School, officials said. Data has shown that more than half of the soldiers who complete RTAC will successfully complete Ranger School.
The next iteration of RTAC begins March 6.
During the first integrated cycle of RTAC, 122 soldiers started the course; 26 of them were women.
A total of 58 soldiers — 53 men and five women — successfully completed the course Jan. 30.
RTAC is two weeks long and consists of two phases, according to information from Fort Benning.
The first phase of RTAC mirrors the assessment phase at Ranger School and is designed to assess a soldier's physical and mental abilities. During this phase, a student conducts a PT test, a swim test, land navigation, and a 6-mile foot march. The second phase of RTAC, the field training exercise, is designed to assess and train soldiers on troop leading procedures and patrolling, skills that are used extensively during the Ranger School.
On average, about 45 percent of Ranger School students will graduate. 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. The test gives candidates two minutes to do 49 pushups and two minutes to do 59 situps, and they also must run five miles in 40 minutes and do six chinups.
In fiscal 2014, PT test failures made up the largest number of Ranger School failures.
The pushup portion of the PT test has been difficult for male and female candidates at RTAC, officials said.
Some don't have the right form, while others couldn't do the 49 required of them within the allotted time.
"We have the same problem with male students, it's not just with the women," said Col. David Fivecoat, commander of the Airborne and Ranger Training Brigade, which runs Ranger School. "Yesterday we started a Ranger School class and lost at least three score students for pushups alone."
Officials expect 40 women to start the March rotation of RTAC. Another 40 are expected for the April class.
Both RTAC and Ranger School are "physically and mentally demanding" courses, Miller said.
"Not every soldier is going to make it through this course," he said. "The standards are demanding, and the standards are not changing. They're not changing in the pre-Ranger course, and they're not going to change for the Ranger Course."
The Army is learning "some great lessons" so far, Miller said.
"Any time any soldier will raise their hand for a voluntary course, particularly one that's very, very tough, I admire those soldiers," Miller 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.