News that the final female student from the Army's gender-integrated assessment of Ranger School will again be allowed to recycle part of the course was greeted by a chorus of online critics accusing the service of giving her an unfair advantage.
However, it is not unprecedented for students to recycle the famously grueling course several times, officials said.
"Approximately 34 percent of students who enter Ranger School recycle at least one phase of the course," said Col. David Fivecoat, commander of the Airborne and Ranger Training Brigade, in a statement to Army Times.
Fivecoat did acknowledge it is more uncommon for a soldier to be allowed to repeat every single phase, as has been the case with the female student. But it does occur every year with more than a dozen men.
"This occurs for approximately 15 students each year, with each situation considered on a case-by-case basis depending on the circumstances," Fivecoat said.
Army officials announced Tuesday that the female Ranger student will recycle the Swamp Phase, Ranger School's third and final phase.
The soldier, who has not publicly been named by the Army, so far has completed three attempts at the Darby Phase, two at the Mountain Phase, and one at the Swamp Phase. She has been in the storied school since April.
U.S. Army soldiers negotiate the Darby Queen obstacle course April 26 during the Ranger Course on Fort Benning, Ga.
Photo Credit: Spc. Nikayla Shodeen/Army
Critics of the Army's decision to open Ranger School to women — a school that until this year had only been open to men — have repeatedly bashed the effort via social media. Many have said the Army was relaxing its standards for the school or giving the female candidates an advantage by allowing them multiple attempts at the school's three phases.
The criticism was 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. The first two female soldiers graduated that day.
During his speech, Miller recalled what the speaker at his Ranger School graduation said.
"He said, more or less, 'you have people who will question the standards of Ranger School. When they question those standards, what I ask you to do is invite them back to Fort Benning, Georgia, and re-validate their tab,'" Miller said. "To date, we've had zero takers."
Miller went on to address "noisy and inaccurate" online critics who continue to insist the Army eased it standards or was pressured to ensure at least one of the women would graduate.
"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.
"There was no pressure from anyone above me to change standards, and, lastly, the president of the United States was not planning, nor is he here today," Miller said. "I know there are some who still don't believe. … If you don't believe, grab your rucksack, come on down to Fort Benning, Georgia, and [we] will roll you into the next RAP week.
Capt. Kristen Griest and 1st Lt. Shaye Haver, on Aug. 21 became the first women to earn the distinctive black and gold tab when they graduated from Ranger School.
The woman who's still a Ranger student went through much of the grueling course with Griest and Haver until she was required to recycle — or try for a second time — the Mountain Phase.
Griest and Haver completed Ranger School after three tries at the Darby Phase and one attempt each at the Mountain and Swamp Phases.
As part of the Army's gender-integrated assessment of Ranger School, 19 women started Ranger School in April. Griest, Haver and the third woman were the only ones who remained.
The Army on Sept. 2 announced that Ranger School is now open to all qualified soldiers regardless of gender.
The prerequisites for students attending Ranger School remain in effect, including the standards of medical fitness, the Army said in its announcement.
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.