A group of West Point women is firing back after Rep. Steve Russell asked the Army to release detailed documents relating to the performance of the first female students in Ranger School.
Russell, who led an infantry battalion in combat in Iraq and is a Ranger School graduate, requested the documents in a letter to Army Secretary John McHugh. He gave the Army until Friday to produce documents outlining the female soldiers' spot reports, test scores, evaluations, injuries and pre-training history. A spokesman for McHugh said the secretary will respond to the congressman.
The West Point women on Thursday submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for Russell's Ranger School records.
"The Rangers have a code similar to West Point, that you do not lie," said Sue Fulton, a 1980 West Point graduate. "The congressman's implication that Ranger cadre at every level have been dishonest is offensive and goes against our core values."
She added: "If he thinks that Rangers lie and standards are arbitrarily ignored, maybe that was his experience. Maybe we should look into what his experience was."
Fulton said Russell's call for statistics drew discussion among her fellow West Pointers and the decision was made to strike back. She said at least a dozen women expressed interest in the FOIA request.
A spokesman for Russell on Thursday morning said the congressman was not yet aware of the FOIA request because he was attending Pope Francis' address to Congress.
In his letter to McHugh, 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 addressed his request 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 a post that went online Wednesday. "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 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. The women were part of a gender-integrated assessment of the school, which until earlier this year had been open only to men.
One female soldier from that group is still in Ranger School; the Army announced last week that she would recycle the Swamp Phase, which is the school's third and final phase.
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.
That chorus of criticism was reignited last week when the school announced the remaining female student's latest recycle opportunity; she has so far completed three attempts at the Darby Phase, two at the Mountain Phase and one at the Swamp Phase.
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.
As part of the Army's gender-integrated assessment of Ranger School, 19 women started Ranger School in April. The Army on Sept. 2 announced that Ranger School is now open to all qualified soldiers regardless of gender.
Fulton, who was in the first class of women to graduate from West Point, said she has heard from many fellow West Point graduates in response to news of Russell's request.
"One of the reasons you're seeing such strong reaction from West Point women is that the arguments being made and the objections being raised are the same stuff that we have heard for decades," Fulton 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.