Ranger School for Females?
The Department of Defense revised the combat restriction for females in February, and since then, questions have been circulating regarding future
revisions. The DoD revision now restricts females from serving in direct ground combat units below the battalion level. This departed from previous policy, which restricted females from serving in direct ground combat units below the brigade level. Typically, an Army battalion has about 3,000-5,000
soldiers, while a brigade is the next larger unit, consisting of about 3-5 battalions. Changing the combat restriction opened over 14,000 Army jobs to females that were previously only opened to males.
In May, the Army’s Chief of Staff General Ray Odierno announced that because ninety percent of infantry officers who reach senior status are Ranger qualified, the Army is researching whether and how to open Ranger school to females. He elaborated that, “. . . if we determine that we’re going to allow women to go into infantry and be successful, they are probably at some time going to have to go through Ranger school.”
The Army has many training opportunities and Ranger School is regarded as one of the most rigorous, evidenced by its high attrition rates because only about 50% of candidates graduate. Ranger School is a grueling sixty-one day course where candidates average a half hour to three hours of sleep a night, and one 1250 calorie vacuum-packed meal per day.
The Army also has Sapper School for combat engineers and Airborne, or “Jump School” for any service member. Sapper School is a demanding and stressful twenty-eight day course that some graduates argue to be tougher than Ranger School. Notable training in Sapper School requires cadets to survive by killing animals with their bare hands. Airborne School is a twenty-one day course where candidates earn their “wings” by parachuting from C-130 or C-17 aircrafts at 1250 feet. Both Sapper School and Airborne School are open to females; yet, the schools differ in how they became co-ed. Sapper School maintained uniform standards for males and females physical tests. At first, female graduation rates were about 38%, but now they are equal to the male graduation rates. Conversely, Airborne School modified the physical standards for females at first. Later, Airborne School revised its standards, making them uniform for females and males. With these experiences to learn from, Army officials are researching whether to maintain uniform physical fitness standards or modify the standards if females are integrated into Ranger School.
Both proponents and opponents of opening Ranger School to females argue against modifying the physical fitness standards. They reason that if physical standards are lowered for females, it may detract from the prestige and value of attaining the Ranger patch. One female Sapper graduate remarked that she would attend Ranger School if it were opened to females, but stated that, “I think it is absolutely imperative that . . . absolutely nothing changes about the standard of performance. If you at all cheapen the value of that tab in the eyes of anyone who’s earned it or who earns it in the future, you are doing a great disservice to the legacy of the Rangers and to the legacy of women.”
Opponents of opening Ranger School to females argue that requiring uniform standards would be a disservice to the Army and to Ranger School candidates. The argument follows that if the physical standards are maintained, then female attrition and injury rates will increase. This argument is supported by the fact that the Army recognizes a disparity in physical abilities between males and females for the Basic Training fitness test that currently requires females to meet lower standards for the push-up, sit-up, and two mile run. Additionally, opponents argue that the fight load – how much weight each Ranger School cadet must carry –will be more too heavy for most females, thus their male battle buddies would be forced to pick up the slack.
General Odierno ordered the head of the U.S. Army Maneuver Center of Excellence, Major General Robert Brown, and the head of the U.S. Training and Doctrine Command, General Robert Crone, to research the issues of allowing females into infantry battalions and Ranger School. Following an order from the Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, by November, the Army will elicit a recommendation regarding whether and how it may integrate females into Ranger School.