Ten of the 12 women who this spring took their first step to becoming infantry officers graduated Wednesday at Fort Benning, Georgia, according to an Army release.
The officers were part of the first gender-integrated class of the 17-week Infantry Basic Officer Leaders Course, which takes freshly commissioned lieutenants and prepares them to receive their blue infantry cords.
"This is a process," Lt. Col. Matthew Weber, IBOLC's commander, told reporters Wednesday morning. "The training of an infantry lieutenant is a process until they step in front of that rifle platoon, and this is but the very first step in that process."
The women were a dozen out of 166 total in the latest class. They will now move on to follow-on training such as Ranger school, Airborne school, the Stryker Leader Course and the Mechanized Leader Course before receiving their first assignments, Weber said. The pipeline takes about a year.
From there, units at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and Fort Hood, Texas, are preparing to accept the first female infantry platoon leaders, according to Maj. Gen. Eric Wesley, head of the Army's Maneuver Center of Excellence.
"The reason for that is we want to enable success in this new initiative and to enable success…we are priming the pump and enabling success by initially focusing on two installations," he said.
Also in the training pipeline are Capts. Kristen Griest and Shaye Haver, who in 2015 became the first women to complete the legendary Ranger course.
Griest made a lateral transfer from military police to infantry earlier this year. Haver has been approved for a transfer from aviation but is waiting on final approval from Army Secretary Eric Fanning, said Brig. Gen. Peter Jones, commandant of the infantry school.
"I had the opportunity to present Capt. Griest her blue cord, becoming an infantryman," Wesley said. "And that was a special moment because what we saw was another step in this institution continuing to reflect American values – and that is opportunity to compete."
'Lieutenant, lieutenant, lieutenant'
As it went with Griest and Haver's Ranger graduation, questions arose about whether standards had been relaxed to make IBOLC more doable for the women.
"There’s no change in the way the course has been run," said Command Sgt. Maj. Joe Davis, the senior enlisted soldier at IBOLC. "We’re in the business of producing leaders, and it doesn’t matter if they’re male or females."
And like his colleagues, Davis stressed that bringing women into their ranks wasn't an unusual undertaking.
"This isn't something new. We’ve been integrating females in the military for years," he said. "I’ve seen them firsthand on the battlefield doing exceptional work."
The focus, they all mentioned, begins and ends with standards.
"This makes us a better Army. The reason it makes us a better Army is this whole issue has driven us to ensure we had the right standards aligned to each occupational specialty in the Army," Jones said. "By defining that, what we’ve done is we’ve created a gender-neutral, standards-based training environment, so it no longer becomes a question of male or female."
And, Jones added, the women don't want special treatment.
"It’s Ranger, Ranger, Ranger. They want to be not, female Ranger -- Ranger," he said. "Same thing with lieutenant. It’s lieutenant, lieutenant, lieutenant."